Lawyers have a lot of meetings. To make your meetings effective and avoid wasting time, follow these steps.
Determine Your Purpose
First, decide the purpose and goal for your meeting. Once you know what you are trying to accomplish, you can decide on the meeting structure by answering this questions:
- Will it be a free-flowing discussion?
- Will participants have a set time to speak?
- Is this a brainstorming meeting to generate ideas, an action-based meeting to identify next steps and responsibilities, or a task-based meeting to accomplish a particular assignment?
- Does the meeting address a time-sensitive issue that must be addressed right away, or is it a future-oriented, planning meeting?
The meeting’s purpose will also drive the attendance. Attendance can make or break your meeting: inviting too many people can unnecessarily complicate it, but inviting too few (or the wrong people) can hinder progress.
Set the Agenda and Communicate in Advance
Create an agenda for the meeting with topics to be discussed and persons responsible. Show that you respect the time of all involved and set limits for discussion, with a concrete beginning and ending time for the meeting.
Advise attendees of the date and time of the meeting. Communicate the purpose of the meeting, goals, and agenda to all participants in advance of your meeting so they can prepare. Request that participants confirm his or her attendance. Send out a meeting reminder the day before the meeting to confirm.
The Optimal Meeting
Start on time and stick to your agenda. Begin by repeating the goal of the meeting. If unrelated issues arise that must be discussed during the meeting, request agreement of the participants to continue the meeting. Clearly establish that only those individuals involved in that particular project or issue be required to stay. If non-urgent issues arise, table them for a meeting specifically for that purpose at another time.
Designate one person to be the meeting facilitator to stay on point and on time. You can also assign a time-keeper to keep an eye on the clock and remind the facilitator.
To obtain maximum participation, make the meeting a “safe place” for people to express their opinions without judgment or ridicule. Allow each person the opportunity to speak, but don’t let one person take over the meeting. Obtain different perspectives by asking open-ended questions.
When controversy arises, look for points of agreement.
Before concluding the meeting, develop an action plan and next steps. Set deadlines for the tasks identified and assign responsibility for those tasks to specific groups or individuals.
Even if you don’t take minutes of the meeting, make sure that the main goals, decisions, deadlines, and responsibilities determined during the meeting are communicated afterwards to make follow up and future meetings more productive — even for those who were unable to attend. Follow up individually with those who have action steps to complete.
- 2010-09-15. Originally published.
- 2015-03-06. Revised and republished.
- 2016-06-17. Republished
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