Oh no, another meeting! All we do is talk – why do we never get anything done?

Strong meeting objectives, including desired actions and outcomes, can make the difference between highly-productive meetings and those that feel like a waste of time.

Do you attend a lot of meetings? When meetings are finished, do you believe it was a good use of time, or does it seem that you have wasted yet another period of time with people that want to hear themselves talk?

There are two primary reasons to have meetings; to share information and to make decisions.  In order to be productive, it is important to be clear about the overall purpose (why are we having the meeting?) and to have specific objectives leading to real outcomes (what do we want to achieve during the meeting?). When planning your next meeting, be sure to consider these questions so that important work can be done and attendees feel a sense of accomplishment.

Think of a very successful meeting that you have attended. What is an example of an outcome of that meeting? Was a budget proposed and adopted for the upcoming year?  Did the group discuss future events and activities that they want to sponsor, and develop a calendar?  Did the Executive Director talk about accomplishments of the organization during the previous year? Were monthly committee reports given by committee representatives?  Now, decide which of these meeting outcomes are either tangible or intangible.  What is the difference between the two, and why is this important?

Tangible outcomes are concrete results of group action, such as a specific work plan, a decision on an issue, a list of priorities or a project budget.  Intangible outcomes result from communication-focused activities, and include things like being updated or better informed, understanding each other’s opinions, or learning about progress on a project.

Tangible outcomes are important because they make meetings seem worthwhile, something has been decided, done, planned or finalized. If only intangible outcomes are apparent, people may feel the meeting was unnecessary and time was wasted.  Reports can be reviewed outside of face-to-face meetings. If there are questions about information received, they can be answered the next time the group comes together.

How do you achieve tangible outcomes? Start with results-oriented objectives which will lead to tangible results.  Consider what you want to accomplish in the meeting, and frame that work in the form of results-oriented language.  Use an action statement followed by the desired outcome. “We will develop a list of community partners to involve in our annual fundraising campaign.” “The committee will decide which events to sponsor an information table for increased awareness of the organization.” “A list of capital projects will be proposed and prioritized for completion over the next year.” 

Michigan State University Extension recommends that you consider these same objectives that could appear on an agenda, without being results-oriented:

  • Discuss if community partners may be interested in helping with our fundraising events.
  • Any volunteers to sit at our information table and hand out brochures?
  • Review upcoming expenses and capital projects.             

Remember that the difference between a highly-successful meeting and one that feels to be a waste of time can be as simple as planning strong results-oriented objectives which will result in tangible outcomes. These objectives can even be listed on the agenda, so that everyone is aware of meeting goals.  

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