The first thing you need to decide is if a formal meeting is absolutely necessary.
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Perhaps those morning staff meetings could be reduced to a few times a week instead of every day, or maybe they could take place over morning coffee and be more informal.
If a formal meeting is necessary, divide your attendees into two groups: participants and observers. Let people know what group they belong in so that they can decide whether they want to attend. If you send out a report after the meeting, that may be enough for some people.
Using the P.A.T. Approach
We use the PAT approach to prepare for and schedule meetings.
- Purpose: What is the purpose of the meeting? We usually state this in one short sentence. Example: “This meeting is to review the new invoice signing policy.” This helps people evaluate if they need to be there. It will also help you build the agenda and determine if the meeting was successful.
- Agenda: This is the backbone of the meeting. It should be created well in advance of the meeting, sent to all participants and observers, and be used during the meeting to keep things on track.
- Time frame: How long will the meeting be? Typically, meetings should not exceed one hour. (In fact, we recommend a fifty minute meeting, starting at five past the hour and ending five minutes before the hour.) If the meeting needs to be longer, make sure you include breaks, or divide it into two or more sessions.
Building the Agenda
Before the meeting, make a list of what needs to be discussed, how long you believe it will take, and the person who will be presenting the item. Here is an example.
Once the agenda is complete, send it to all participants and observers, preferably with the meeting request, and preferably two to three days before the meeting. Make sure you ask for everyone’s approval, including additions or deletions. If you do make changes, send out a single updated copy 24 hours before the meeting.
Keeping Things on Track
Before the meeting, post the agenda on a flip chart, whiteboard, or PowerPoint slide. Spend the first five minutes of the meeting going over the agenda and getting approval. During the meeting, take minutes with the agenda as a framework.
(Although this informal structure will be sufficient for most meetings, more formal meetings may require more formal minutes.)
Your job as chairperson is to keep the meeting running according to the agenda. If an item runs past its scheduled time, ask the group if they think more time is needed to discuss the item. If so, how do they want to handle it? They can reduce the time for other items, remove other items altogether, schedule an offline follow-up session, or schedule another meeting. No matter what the group agrees to, make sure that they stick to their decision.
At the end of the meeting, get agreement that all items on the agenda were sufficiently covered. This will identify any gaps that may require follow-up and it will give people a positive sense of accomplishment about the meeting.