Why can’t student affairs professionals conduct a well-run meeting? I have been in the field for over 30 years and am continually amazed by the lack of skill colleagues demonstrate when they facilitate a meeting. Poorly run meetings are more then just a frustrating experience. They also waste valuable time and energy of staff. The chair is not just responsible for how a meeting is run, but also how a meeting is put together beforehand. As a solution to this ongoing problem, I offer my Top Ten simple rules for chairing an effective meeting.
Who Should Participate?—People in attendance should be there for a reason. They should have something to contribute to a meeting and/or be present due to the information that will be discussed. Having individuals there to serve as window dressing serves no purpose at all. It’s the quality, not quantity of those in attendance.
Request Reports Ahead of Time—Preparation is key for a smoothly run meeting. If you want staff to present a report let them know in advance so they can prepare a succinct presentation. Don’t put them on the spot at the meeting without any warning. The result—ill-articulated statements, humiliation, and embarrassment.
Allow Socializing—Meetings should always start on time (see below), but allowing colleagues to schmooze for a few minutes at the beginning is a positive. Some student affairs professionals, especially from different functional areas on campus, may infrequently have face-to-face time except at certain meetings. Catching up encourages collegiality and networking.
Start on Time/End on Time—How frustrating is it to sit at a meeting where the chair is oblivious of time? If a meeting is called for a specific time, then start at the affirmed hour. Likewise, the chair should be cognizant of the clock as the slated end time approaches. Running over a tad—fine; continuing well-past the stated hour—unacceptable.
Disengage From Mobile Devices—Why individuals think they are so important that they must continuously be connected to their wireless devices is beyond me. No one is that important to not unhook themselves during a meeting. If someone needs to have access to the outside world (if an emergency arises) then an agreed upon protocol should be arranged—before the start of a meeting.
Have an Agenda—Sounds simple? Should be, but how many meetings have you sat through knowing nothing about what is going to be discussed? Too many? Ditto. An agenda, like a classroom syllabus, is a roadmap. Share your itinerary with attendees.
Stick to the Agenda—As stated above, an agenda lets individuals know what to expect. Stick to it. The chair should not meander into uncharted territory. The chair should also rein in members that want to plot their own course.
This is Not a Lecture—We have meetings in order to learn and share information. If a chair simply wants to use the time to pontificate, with little or no input from the group, then maybe a memo should be drafted and sent out instead. It will save everyone a lot of time and aggravation.
Staying the Course—Too many times a chair lets committee members drone on…and on…and on without reeling them in. The chair needs to be in control. They need to know when enough is enough and when to move on. The chair also needs to involve everyone at the meeting even if that means using the Socratic method so near and dear to law school classrooms.
What is the Resolution—My number one complaint about individuals that chair a meeting is ending a session with absolutely no resolution. All the problems of the world do not have to be resolved, BUT before adjourning decide what will be done before the next gathering. Are there assignments for participants? Will an agenda item be brought up again for further debate? Will a subcommittee be formed with a firm mandate? Simply ending with no outcomes almost makes the meeting a pointless exercise in futility.
By incorporating my Top Ten you might not receive a standing ovation at the end of a meeting. However, by following these guidelines, you will reap the silent, heartfelt admiration of countless colleagues.