Tips for entrepreneurs on how to structure a good meeting

economic-forecast-headerMeetings are an essential part of getting business done and moving on with decision making for your business. As an entrepreneur, you will have had many meetings when you are initially setting up your company, but often these will have been one-to-one encounters, with a bank manager, for example, to source finance and support.

To be successful, meetings have to be structured so that everyone participating is clear about the reasons for the meeting and what the expected outcomes are. That doesn’t mean that outcomes are determined beforehand, otherwise there would be little point in having meetings. A good meeting will encourage a range of contributions from participants and work towards solutions to questions, problems and the best way forward.

 

Setting up your meeting

There is no point in a meeting simply being a talking shop where people express their views, agree or disagree, since if nothing happens following the meeting it’s a waste of everyone’s time – and money.

An effective way to set up your meetings structure is to establish a regular time for each one. Therefore, a meeting dealing with finance could – and probably should – be monthly; marketing, personnel, operations, communications and any other areas your business needs to deal with can be scheduled appropriately.

Your policies should always allow for the possibility of an emergency meeting on any area of concern, should circumstances dictate.

 

Meeting preparation

The leader of the meeting, usually known as the chair or chairperson, needs to be well prepared, reading through all the papers that are to be discussed and checking with those who have prepared the papers if there are issues that need to be clarified. The chair’s job is to steer the meeting, to give participants opportunities to speak and to encourage questions to those who have prepared the documents.

You are looking to give people a chance to air their views on the issues under discussion, bearing in mind there will be desired outcomes that may not always be agreed on by everyone. Information brought to the meeting should be accurate, can give an opinion on the desired outcome, but should not be used simply as a rubber stamp.

 

Developing an agenda

Participants at a meeting need to get papers in plenty of time so they have the opportunity to read and digest them and then be prepared to discuss their point of view. These papers will have an agenda that makes clear what order papers will be taken in, and if circumstances dictate, there can be revisions to the agenda. Again, plenty of time should be allowed for participants to read it and comment if they want to.

 

Appointing a minute taker

In many businesses, there will be an employee who is responsible for taking down the minutes of a meeting. It’s a crucial part of any meeting that what is discussed is accurately recorded and then disseminated to meeting members. There are many routes to find out how to write meeting minutes. Minutes are essential to keep people informed about discussions, decision making and in the interests of transparency.

There are certain issues that need to be discussed by your board members and without staff present, as they may be relevant to specific financial, human resources or other issues. These should be minuted but only sent to those who took part in the confidential session.

Some people may think there is something to hide when a confidential meeting session takes place, but it’s not the case. There can be sensitive issues that have to be discussed confidentially.

 

Starting the meeting

Start promptly, introduce any new members or guests who have been asked to provide input to the discussions, and make sure you have a quorum for the meeting. This is set down in your policy for meetings and will vary depending on the purpose of the meeting. A board may need a quorum of five out of nine, a smaller finance sub-group perhaps three out of five. These are only examples and will differ depending on what your business has set up and what you consider appropriate.

Agendas should be prioritized so the most important items come up early, and it’s a good idea to set a discussion time limit against each agenda item. There’s no point in the meeting just becoming a talking shop that goes on and on – keep it tight and focused and you’re much more likely to get the outcomes you are looking for.

 

Progressing the meeting

A good chair will introduce each agenda item, ask the appropriate staff member to speak, and then open up the discussion. You want a meeting to flow smoothly, but do give people the opportunity to contribute. The chair can cut off rambling statements courteously and move on to the next contributor. At the end of each agenda item, agreed actions can be summarized, as can decisions. Here, the minute taker has a key role to accurately reflect the decisions and actions that have been agreed.

 

Ending the meeting

The chair can make a summary of what has been decided and what will be actioned, and by whom. You should set a date for the next meeting, what you expect from it – if that is appropriate at that time – and decide on the roles and responsibilities. If you have specific meetings policies laid out with those roles and responsibilities already defined, you may not need this step, but all organizations are different and you may need to be very precise as to how your next meeting will work.

Where possible, it’s always a good plan to give meeting members to have time to talk with each other both before and after the meeting, more on the social side of things. Providing light refreshments such as tea, coffee, cookies and water can help put participants more at ease.

When you encourage meeting participants to be involved, to feel they are contributing to the way the business is going forward, you’ll have a sound and secure base for developing your plans.

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