Making meetings work

Meetings that lack purpose and last forever are a drag! Use these 6 tips to make your next meeting better.

Many organizations rely on meetings to set goals, accomplish tasks and move big ideas forward. Michigan 4-H Youth Development is no exception, often hosting many local 4-H project based advisory group meetings each month. Any meeting, regardless of its purpose can quickly lose energy and focus if group members lose sight of the goals or get off track. Follow these six tips by Michigan State University Extension to make your meetings more effective.  

  1. Establish clear goals for the meeting- Meeting simply for the sake of “meeting” with no specific goals or agenda can be frustrating to meeting participants. If group members begin to sense that their time is not being used to its fullest potential, attendance can begin to suffer. Outlining the goals of a meeting can be done simply by constructing an agenda. Even if the goal of the meeting is to touch-base on progress since the last meeting, that purpose should be stated on the agenda.
  2. Assign a facilitator and recorder- At minimum, meetings should have at least two people assigned to tasks. One facilitator should move discussion forward, solicit ideas from the group and keep the discussion focused on the agenda. One Recorder should be responsible for note-taking in order to provide a record for those who were unable to attend and prevent the group from discussing things they’ve already covered in the future. Often, this is accomplished through the election of officers such as president and secretary, but even informal groups and meetings should use this approach.
  3. Establish ground rules and follow them- Meetings are most effective when they are conducted in a spirit of trust and focus. Groups may consider establishing ground rules for their functioning that are based on specific behaviors, the group’s overall purpose or goals, or an organizational mission or vision. Once established, these should be displayed visibly in the room or on the group’s printed agenda as a constant reminder. Many 4-H committees use the Michigan 4-H Guiding Principles as a visual reminder about their big-picture focus. Keeping ground rules visible for easy reference makes it easy for groups to refocus the attention of members or call or specific inappropriate behaviors. 
  4. Set goals for discussion time limits- Most effective meetings have a scheduled end time and set time goals for discussion. End times can create a sense of urgency to complete agenda items and keep discussion focused. This focus can reduce the number of side-bars and unrelated discussion.
  5. Assign specific action steps and persons responsible- It’s often easy to generate ideas in meetings, but more difficult to make sure the ideas with action steps are assigned to a specific person. It should never be assumed that the president or paid staff member are the parties responsible for moving group ideas forward. Consider using worksheets to help identify action steps, deadlines and persons responsible.
  6. Share the wealth- Encourage multiple group members to take on roles and responsibilities. This encourages more people to understand group tasks and timelines and take ownership for their success. This strategy also avoids burnout and over commitment of particularly engaged team members.

In addition, MSU Extension experts offer resources on group facilitation skills and specific resources for 4-H advisory groups.

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