I had an awkward moment at a moderately important board type meeting recently. At 11am (as I had written to everyone beforehand more than once) I said I had to leave. The meeting had run 2 hours which was the agenda time allotted. The Chair asked where I was going? As if to say "isn't this meeting the most important matter in the world?" I replied "to an event I had committed to several weeks ago, to which I had told you" and promptly left.
There are many types of meeting and different types of effectiveness. I now Chair and have chaired several types of these semi-formal to formal decision making and oversight meetings and have some thoughts on making them effective. They are of a different timbre to creative meetings and confusing the type of meetings I see leads oft times to ineffectivness.
Making these meetings efficient and productive takes preperation time.
Ideally the chair needs to work the CEO or other key decision makers in the meeting to ensure the agenda points and clear and prioritised.
Once the points to raise, discuss and decide upon are known. The Chair needs to carefully allot or review the alloted time for those agenda points. This is a crucial skill. Too little time will mean the meeting will not run well.
At this point, you need to decide if there is then too much in the agenda and adjust accordingly.
This (1) time setting (2) priority setting and then (3) agenda adjustment are 3 crucial areas the chair should resolve.
Appropriate papers then need to be sent with enough time in advance for people to read (although I will note another a completely different type of meeting which will not use advance papers - this meeting has members read papers all together and make a decision with the same knowledge base).
If the meeting members are not reading the papers in advance, you need to tell them and then potentially remove them from the board/commitee if they do not have the time to commit.
Ensuring board preparedness is an item that you should have assessed on a regular basis. As is self evaluation and skills audit if this is a formal board and meeting structure.
At the meeting, you need to be deadly efficient at keeping the time alloted correct yet allowing enough debate to flow. This is where member prep and time allowance come together. Members unprepared can take time up with unnecessary clarifications.
Still in your quest for effectiveness you must not abandon intriguing points and useful ideas. However, when these interesting points arise but not directly relevant to the topic you need to capture them and park them.
If seen this called a nugget harvesting or the parking lot system.
Note the idea nugget. State you are closing this nugget topic but noting it down to be followed up appropriately. Putting it in the parking lot.
If a decision is needed to be made. The decision maker needs to make it. It might not be the chair but you have to make sure the decision is made.
There may be a case for delaying the decision due to a lack of information. However in a well run meeting all the appropriate papers should been prepared.
You will never have 100 percent of the information. Making decisions under uncertainty will be a mark of the quality of your decision maker. Having all the information prepared will be a mark of the strength of your team and also the strength of your oversight.
Keeping to time. Ensuring decisions are made. Action points are noted. Good ideas go into the parking lot for follow up.
Allowing members to leave on time is another mark of an effective meeting.
The chairs job is not finished here. The chair should follow up effectively on parking lot ideas, also with the CEO or specific board members or presenters on any points or decisions that need to be made.
Putting it all together you have:
-Save good ideas
More thoughts: My Financial Times opinion article on long-term investing and how to engage with companies.
How to live a life, well lived. Thoughts from a dying man. On play and playing games.
If you'd like to feel inspired by commencement addresses and life lessons try: Neil Gaiman on making wonderful, fabulous, brilliant mistakes; or Nassim Taleb's commencement address; or JK Rowling on the benefits of failure. Or Charlie Munger on always inverting; Sheryl Sandberg on grief, resilience and gratitude.
A provoking read on how to raise a feminist child.
Cross fertilise. Read about the autistic mind here.