Conducting Effective Meetings

Most facets of supervising can be placed in one of two categories: action or admin. The action parts are what supervisors usually enjoy doing the most. The admin side is a different story.

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Most facets of supervising can be placed in one of two categories: action or admin. The action parts are what supervisors usually enjoy doing the most. The admin side is a different story. Take conducting meetings, for example. Most supervisors hate attending them or, worse, running them. Meetings tend to go long, if not properly organized they don't accomplish much, and most of the time the information needed could have been obtained in a more efficient manner. But whose fault is that? The supervisor who either sponsored or conducted the meeting, that's who. The reality is, we are our own worst enemies and tend to cause our own pain.

So what's the answer? Make every effort to run your meeting like a guerilla warfare operation: hit and run. Deal with the meeting as a set of objectives and once they are met, get out of there. Remember, time is as valuable as money; you don't want to waste either. There are generally four components to a successful meeting: planning, logistics, facilitating, and follow-up.

It may sound overly simplistic, but the first step in planning a meeting is establishing the need for one. If you can handle the flow of information in any other way and still accomplish your objectives you don't need one. For example, could you use a group e-mail, memo, online PowerPoint presentation, or video to accomplish the same thing? If you just need to share information, that in and of itself is not a good reason. Meetings are primarily used as vehicles for decision-making and problem solving. If you control the process, you control the outcome. Use that as your starting framework.

Once you decide you need to meet, define your objectives, turn them into an agenda, and stick to it. Don't deviate from your agenda or you will start to waste everyone's time. Wasting time is the number one complaint about attending meetings and is totally preventable with the right mindset.

As to logistics, identify who needs to be there. Only invite those people that you need direct input from. Once you figure out how many people you need, find an appropriate location to hold the meeting. Make sure everyone has a place to sit down and work from. No one likes standing in the back of a room.

Depending on the objectives of the meeting, it is sometimes also advisable to have a meet and greet anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes before the actual meeting starts. A great deal of pre-meeting discussion may occur during that free zone that can save you time during the meeting. Also, don't forget to create a sign-in sheet to document who attends. It might come in handy later if anyone gets selective memory. If you don't need any command staff present, keep them informed with update briefings or memos later on.

The facilitating portion of the meeting is probably the hardest part. This is where someone has to take charge and run the meeting. Spend a few moments going over the rules and objectives of the meeting. Explain that part of your job is to make sure the meeting doesn't go off topic and that you will be sticking to the agenda. Before the meeting is done, summarize the highlights and any decisions that were made. Explain that a written summary will be e-mailed to everyone later.

The last part is your follow-up. You need to obtain feedback from the attendees. You can do this in person or via e-mail. There may have been some sidebar conversations that you had to cut off in order to keep the meeting going that still need to be explored, and you can mention these here. Your follow-up also serves to provide you with constructive criticism, identify any gaps that need filling in, and establish (or confirm) the need to set up another meeting. You should send everyone a summary in writing as well. If your summary is not challenged, then no one can question what was said or not said later on.

If you hate meetings as much as I do, then do something to make them better. Learn what not to do by doing a little research on the Internet and by reviewing your own past experiences. If you make meetings specific and keep to the agenda (guerilla warfare hit and run), people will appreciate it and you will get more done. As a supervisor, making things happen is your job. Conducting a meeting can be a valuable tool if you do it right.

Amaury Murgado is a special operations lieutenant with the Osceola County (Fla.) Sheriff's Office. He has over 28 years of law enforcement experience, is a retired master sergeant from the Army Reserve, and holds a Master of Political Science from the University of Central Florida.

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Lieutenant (Ret.)
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