Once again, Iâ€™d like to welcome back Maureen Carruthers (pictured at left).Â Maureen is a non-profit consultant, and the force behind the excellent blog â€œLow Hanging Fruit Communicationâ€ which covers many topics includingÂ social media for non-profits.
Maureenâ€™s goal is to help nonprofit leaders reach their right people more quickly so their organizations have a greater impact,Â She has over ten years experience working in and around nonprofit organizations, most recently as the Workforce Development Program Manager for theÂ Dayton Tooling and Manufacturing Association, where she managed aÂ robot competitionÂ based on theBattleBotsÂ television series. Previously, she managed theÂ Orchestra ForumÂ program for theInstitute for Cultural Policy and PracticeÂ and served as House Manager for theÂ Delaware Theatre Company.
I have spent some time on Maureenâ€™s blog, and I highly recommend you check her site out.Â I learned a lot!Â You can even sign up forÂ Maureenâ€™s free e-class and newsletter.
Want Better Meetings? Know when NOT toÂ meet
Iâ€™ll admit it.Â I love meetings.Â I love the socializing, I love the energy of people working together toward a common goal.Â I love the excitement generated when a group of people come up with an idea no one would have considered on their own.
I realize, however, these meeting joys arenâ€™t a sure thing.Â Some meetings go on and on forever, wasting everyoneâ€™s time and generating nothing but mental lists of ways to end your suffering with office supplies.
There is a way to have more meeting joy and less meeting sorrow.Â All you have to do is learn when to back away from theÂ flipchart.
When Not to Meet
Meetings have a bad reputation because they are often used inappropriately. If you attend meetings under the following circumstances, all the great planning in the world wonâ€™t take away that â€œstab your eyes out feeling.â€
When you (only) want to deliver information
Meeting so you (or anyone) can â€œhold courtâ€ to pontificate about your latest ideas is an ego tripâ€“and thus a terrible use of time.Â If your meetings basically involve one person (or worseâ€“a series of people!) talking, and everyone else listening (or pretending to listen) you need to stop having meetings and start disseminating information in more appropriate ways.
Ideally, the alternative will be a written report.Â Reports make the information available in an easy to access format that doesnâ€™t depend on the memory or mood of the listener.Â Itâ€™s also more concrete, so the presenter is likely to be much clearer than he might have been if he were giving the report off the cuff.Â It does take a bit more time to prepareâ€“but if you consider the total amount of time used by the speakers and the listenersâ€“itâ€™s a big savings.
If a written report just isnâ€™t going to happen, consider video reports or audio reports.Â These reports can then be transcribedâ€“providing most of the benefits of the written report in much less time.
When being in the same room adds nothing to the process
It is common for a team working on aÂ project to assume regular meetings are required to â€œkeep everyone on the same pageâ€.Â Thanks to the internet, many of these meetings are no longer necessary.Â Hold one meeting at the beginning of the process to develop parameters, make sure the group has a shared understanding of the task ahead, and then do the rest of the collaboration using an online tool likeÂ Wiki Spaces,Â Google DocsÂ orÂ Google Wave.*
These tools allow for asynchronous communication and create instant documentation of the work that is done.Â This means instead of holding a meeting and then going off to do the workâ€“ team members do the work as their schedules allow.Â By using the collaboration tool, the team still gets the value of group input but they donâ€™t have to do the work at the same time, and they donâ€™t have to send the document back and forth as an attachment.Â This means no more updating the wrong copy of the document.Â The online tools also offer version control so itâ€™s easy to see who made what changes when, and to revert to old copies if necessary.
When you are finished, use the meeting time you saved to go outÂ and to celebrate.
When the right people canâ€™t attend
Meetings work when the right people come together to discuss the right things.Â Having a meetings with only some of the players, or with people â€œrepresentingâ€ someone who canâ€™t attend donâ€™t work.Â If the key players canâ€™t or wonâ€™t attend, all the meetings in the world wonâ€™t help you make progress.
When people arenâ€™t prepared
If the agenda didnâ€™t get out on time, or if participants havenâ€™t come to a meeting prepared to work (for whatever reason) itâ€™s really best to cancel.Â Your preparation time may feel wasted ,but by holding the meeting will waste more time, andÂ you will train participants that preparation isnâ€™t required.
When you donâ€™t have something specific to discuss
Holding a meeting just because youâ€™ve got it set up as a re-occurring appointment on your calendar is not a good reason to get everyone together.Â If there are difficult, complicated or controversial topics to discussâ€“by all means, have a meeting.Â If not, skip it (or get together for drinks instead).