I’m constantly amazed at how ill-prepared people are for meetings. It doesn’t matter what the meeting is about, who’s in attendance, or what their particular role is – someone always shows up having not done their homework. In my opinion, a lack of preparation indicates a level of disrespect for the organization, the task at hand, and other peoples’ time. It also makes you look foolish.
There may indeed be instances when preparation is difficult. Last minute additions to the agenda, for instance, can put you at a disadvantage. Unclear expectations can lead you to focus on the wrong kind of preparation. Sometimes, you just have a hard time getting your hands on the necessary information. But, far too often, a lack of preparation isn’t due to any of these; it’s simply something people neglect to do. We assume we can walk into a meeting and wing it. Sometimes it works out. Many times, it doesn’t.
To avoid the issues of embarrassment, wasted time, and meaningless discussions, meeting organizers would do well to structure their gatherings appropriately. This includes having the right kind of meeting, as well as incorporating the right elements throughout. But to foster effective communication, everyone should engage in at least a modest level of preparation for each meeting topic. All you have to do is focus on the basics. Just ask, and answer, a series of questions.
Questions are the primary tool of an effective leader. By simply asking questions, we open up discussion, inspire new ways of thinking, and invite change. It’s not those who provide answers who create engagement, but those who ask questions. And there’s no better place to ask questions than during your team meetings. Here are a few you might consider.
WHO: Who are the key players in this task or project? Who are influencers? Who are detractors? Who has a particular role to play or information to provide?
WHAT: What is going on? What are the significant events that brought us to this discussion? What needs to change? What steps need to be taken going forward?
WHEN: When did significant events take place? When do we have to make a decision? When can we expect members to complete their assigned tasks?
WHERE: Where can information be found? Where should our focus be? Where do our significant opportunities and challenges lie?
WHY: Why is this topic important? Why is action warranted? Why should we care? Why is the right person to handle it?
HOW: How should we approach this? How can we make this continues or ceases to take place? How can we ensure compliance or action? How can we take advantage of the situation we’re in?
The next time you facilitate a meeting, try asking more than you tell. Before you attend your next meeting as a participant, prepare by reviewing the available materials and asking some questions. Jot them down…and ask them.
How well is questioning used in your team meetings? Do you have some go-to questions that help stimulate discussion and discovery? How else do you prepare for an effective meeting? I invite you to share your experience.
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