Meetings take up vast amounts of time, yet far too often attendees say they have been bored and while physically they have been in the room, mentally they have been somewhere else entirely. Meanwhile, minute takers desperately try to hear, understand, translate and record all at the same time.

Too many meetings are appallingly run. Are you one of the culprits?

When I run minute-taking workshops I find no problem filling a venue with people desperate to hear some magical advice on how to cope with insane demands, and yet I get far less takers for managing meetings. Is it pride or something else that stops people who chair or facilitate meetings coming along to find out how to do it?

I will use the term facilitator to encompass any term eg Chair that describes someone in charge of a meeting.

Who trained you to run a meeting?

I continue to be astonished by the number of leaders from sales team leaders to international corporate leaders who confess that they have never had any meeting training and assumed you did it something like the way other people seemed to do it. This seems to me to be an extraordinary phenomenon. Meetings mean bringing people together who could be doing something productive elsewhere, so there is an immediate cost to any organisation. The more poorly the meeting is led the more those undone tasks cost and the more attending people become demotivated with a resultant negative impact both at the meeting and subsequently.

Questions to consider

Here are a list of questions for you to consider relating to meetings and minute taking. Think about the last 3 meetings you have attended”

  • How long did the meeting last?
  • How many people attended?
  • What was the rough cost of each meeting (eg lost production, additional cost of attending – travelling time, fares, technology)?
  • How much time did you invest in preparing before the meeting?
  • How much time do you think other people spent preparing for the meeting?
  • If you had not attended what else would you have been productively engaged in?
  • What were the action points that resulted from the meeting?
  • Were people more or less engaged after the meeting?
  • In your experience do people really do anything about the action points?
  • What type of meetings do you dread?
  • What is your role within the meetings you dread?
  • What positive experiences have you had in meetings?
  • What would you like to be able to do more effectively within meetings?

Results of effective/ineffective meetings

The benefits received from effective meetings include:

  • Action/s will follow
  • Participants will feel it has been a worthwhile investment of their time
  • Participants will want to attend the next meeting
  • Promotes commitment and accountability
  • Meeting will be productive
  • Communicates a clear and consistent message/s
  • Encourages input from participants
  • Establishes all the facts to support decision making
  • Encourages cross-functional working

The implications/cost of ineffective meetings include:

  • Nobody understands what will happen next
  • Nobody takes responsibility
  • Participants do not attend (meeting may be unable to make decisions)
  • Participants do not contribute (wasted brainpower)
  • Wastes time of all involved (creates anger)
  • Wastes money
  • Diverts attention from more important tasks
  • Slows down progress and delays action
  • Can create divide/conflict between participants/departments
  • Affects the ability to make effective decisions
  • Damages morale
  • Creates confusion/chaos

Responsibilities of a facilitator

  • Start meeting on time
  • Introduce anyone who is new to the group, or if it’s a first meeting ask attendees to introduce themselves
  • Review the purpose/objectives of the meeting. Check for understanding
  • Use ground rules for ensuring appropriate and positive contributions
  • Check understanding and agreement at regular points
  • Record actions and decisions as they are agreed
  • Try and ensure an even distribution of actions amongst attendees
  • If important issues outside the scope of the agenda are raised, capture them in a “parking bay” for future discussion
  • If agreement cannot be reached on a particular point either work back through the arguments to find a common point then offer/suggest alternatives, orestablish the fundamental point of disagreement and take up the discussion again after the meeting with those concerned
  • Cope with any outbursts, upsets, disruptions or interruptions
  • Keep track of time, control the discussion
  • Review actions including the statement of action required, who is responsible, any milestones for ensuring progress can be checked, and when the date for completion of the action should be completed
  • Provide the final word by summarising matters and conclusion
  • Agreed time, date, location of the next meeting
  • Review the meeting itself to identify areas for improvement at future meetings
  • Follow up agreed action points prior to the next meeting with those accountable

The most important thing a facilitator does

If you think everybody in the room has understood what has been said then I am pretty certain that you are wrong. We established right at the start that people have monkey brains that drift all over the place. People also use language and acronyms that others may not understand (not least your minute taker). People mumble, people say things in a way that on reflection could have been better put. An indelicate remark subsequently read without context can be damning.

Summarise to check understanding

By summarising you check that you understand, everybody else understands and this is when the minute taker can record something.

Suggested ground rules for ensuring appropriate and positive contributions

  • Listen when others are speaking
  • Understand what is being said, ask questions if unclear
  • Respect opinions of others
  • Value all contributions
  • Build on suggestions or ideas, don’t kill them
  • Uncover hidden agendas, be honest, express feelings and concerns
  • Be open minded, look for positives
  • Don’t get too emotional
  • Don’t dominate discussions… encourage others to express their views and opinions
  • Stick to the point
  • Have fun

Gijs van Wulfen in his book The Innovation Expedition suggests that creativity and innovation are stopped in our organisations. Everyday, everywhere in the world. I agree and can cite Blackberry and Apple as two contrasting examples. Both Blackberry, Microsoft and Nokia initially dismissed the iPhone but Google, who had a mobile phone ready, saw the iPhone, scrapped theirs and began an immediate rethink. I sat in on a leading business consultancy company meeting where, six months after the launch of the iPhone, the majority of consultants wanted to dump their Blackberry phones and change to iPhones.

When a world top four consultancy is adopting something then the smart thing would be to listen but Blackberry refused to innovate. In fairness Steve Ballmer over at Microsoft remained dismissive and so did the folks at Nokia. At the time of writing Blackberry are now in deep financial difficulties having spent years unsuccessfully trying to play catch up, and Nokia and Microsoft had to turn to each other to rescue their positions.

During the creation of the iPhone Steve Jobs had consulted the Chief Executive of Corning Glass, Wendall Weeks. Corning had invented a very strong glass and they called it gorilla glass it was so tough. Corning had ceased gorilla glass production in 2005 but when Jobs heard about it he wanted as much as they could supply for his new phone. Weeks dismissed production as impossible within the time constraints. Jobs famously replied, “Don’t be afraid. You can do it.” As Weeks says, “We did it in under six months. We produced a glass that had never been made. We put our best scientists and engineers on it, and we just made it work.” In his office, Weeks has a framed memento on display,whichcame from Jobs the day the iPhone came out: “We couldn’t have done it without you.”

Gijs van Wulfen’s list of idea killers (from The Innovation Expedition)

1 Yes, but…

2 It already exists!

3 Our customers won’t like that!

4 We don’t have time…

5 No!

6 It’s not possible…

7 It’s too expensive!

8 Let’s be realistic…

9 That’s not logical…

10 We need to do more research…

11 There’s no budget…

12 I’m not creative…

13 We don’t want to make mistakes…

14 The management won’t agree…

15 Get real…

16 It’s not my responsibility…

17 It’s too difficult to master…

18 That’s too big a change..

19 The market is not ready yet…

20 Let’s keep it under consideration…

21 It is just like…

22 The older generation will not use it…

23 We are too small for that..

24 It might work in other places but not here…

25 Since when are you the expert…

26 That’s for the future…

27 There are no staff members available…

28 It is not suitable for our clients…


As a meeting facilitator you might like to use the list as a Blackberry moment warning!

Perception and gorillas in your midst

One of the problems in meetings is perception. The reality is that many participants have many different understandings. Spend a little time watching Chris Chabris

Kevin Chamberlain The SRIX© Coaching Imagineer London and Bristol 01278 428206/0788 4280195 or email

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