Prior Planning: The Key To Avoiding Meeting Failure

Not all meetings are productive or energizing. Difficult interpersonal dynamics,  office politics, power struggles, stonewalling and competitive drives that override the collective good can cause meetings to go off track and fail.


Unless you’re very clear about specific goals, you run the risk of wasting everyone’s time. While it should be obvious, and it may be to you, not everyone is aware of the key issues you want them to bring to your meeting.


In the work I do, I hear about a variety of assumptions people make about meetings, many of which are unsubstantiated because questions aren’t asked.


A meeting should have at least one of four key objectives:


  1. Informational. If the purpose is purely factual, consider a more streamlined approach to disseminating information.
  2. Constructive and creative. Meetings are ideal for brainstorming and developing better processes.
  3. Clarifying. Meetings are often necessary when people are confused about their roles, responsibilities, collaboration and commitments.
  4. Legislative. Consider a meeting when you need to establish frameworks for rules, routines and procedures.


Prepare an Agenda


A finely tuned agenda allows you to outline your expectations and objectives. It can also speed up a meeting (unless, of course, the agenda is too brief or vague).


Before calling a meeting, determine whether your agenda is “for information,” “for discussion,” or “for decision,” so each participant understands the goal.


The following tips will help you plan your agenda:


  • The early part of a meeting tends to have more energy and can be the most creative. Put items requiring more mental energy and ideas at the top of the agenda.


  • Some agenda items will unite committee members, while others may divide them into factions with conflicting opinions. It’s often smart to end on an item that will be unifying.


  • Dwelling too long on trivial items is a common error. Deal with the more urgent long-term issues at the beginning of the meeting.


  • Limit the meeting’s length, and state the stop time on the agenda. Start and end on time. If you schedule your meeting right before lunch or quitting time, people may be more motivated to stick to the agenda.


  • Whenever possible, circulate background information on key issues in advance so participants are prepared and well informed. Keep these papers brief or people won’t read them.


  • Identify all agenda items before the meeting. If you allow people to add “other business,” you’ve essentially issued an invitation to waste time. You can, however, structure time for discussion before the meeting’s close.


What are your thoughts about these suggestions? I’d love to hear from you.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *