Managing Your Meeting Goals

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One of the most important aspects of leading an organization or team is the skill of facilitation. According to ESC Consultant and facilitation expert Jack Smith there are three components to essential components to facilitating effectively, planning the meeting, managing the tools, and managing the meeting. Planning the meeting is the process that ensures the groups interactions and participation are constructive. Managing the tools ensures that the technical aspects for the sessions contribute to the meeting process and goals. The third and what many find most daunting is managing the meeting.  However, with proper preparation and planning this can be the easiest part of the process.

Managing the meeting includes three components: planning the meeting, conducting the meeting, and following up after the meeting. Begin planning the meeting by defining the goals you want to achieve and from there set your agenda. The agenda should provide a preview for the meeting as well as setting the flow of the meeting.  As part of the preparation, think through the following:

  • The people – who needs to be there.
  • Materials and audiovisuals – creating, gathering, and preparing
  • Location – book a room or venue
  • Decide whether or not the meeting goals would be better achieved through a face to face meeting versus a telephone conference or a virtual meeting
  • What the process of the meeting will be

To help set the flow of the meeting and keep the meeting organized and on task, set a time for each agenda item. After the outline of the agenda has been established the rest of the information is “sandwiched” in. This “sandwiched” information will help make important decisions. Sending out the agenda ahead of time allows people to review and prepare discussion and thoughts on the agenda items.

While it may seem unnecessary to some, it is often a best practice to establish ground rules at the beginning of the meeting, such as, returning from breaks at agreed times, turning off electronic devices and cell phones, and reminding attendees to participate and listen actively and respectfully. Remember it is the facilitator’s job to leverage the diversity within the group. This is done by showing personal leadership, valuing and respecting the diverse opinion, and intervening if necessary to prevent inappropriate remarks. The facilitator is not there to be a lecturer, but rather to listen, ask leading questions to stimulate productive discussions, and keep the meeting on track.

After the meeting is over, sending out the meeting minutes is always best practice. The minutes should include notes on the discussion and decisions made during the meeting. Meeting minutes should not only consist of notes on the meeting but also action items and who was assigned to them.

If your nonprofit could benefit from affordable management consulting, please contact ESC’s Director of Consulting, Ulea Lago, at ulago@escne.org or call 617-357-5550. We serve nonprofits in eastern Massachusetts and Rhode Island, and we offer a complimentary 2-hour assessment visit for all interested area nonprofits.

 

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Nonprofit Management Tips: Keep Brainstorm Sessions Brief

If you had to guess as a nonprofit management professional, how long do you think a brainstorm meeting should last for maximum results? 30 minutes? an hour? Two hours or more?

The answer, according to ESC Volunteer Consultant Jack C. Smith, is as little as 10 minutes. His “Effective Facilitation Skills for Leaders and Emerging Managers” workshop identifies brainstorming as one of three vital problem solving techniques alongside the Nominal Group Technique and Force Field Analysis (both of which we will explore at a later date); so, despite the light time commitment, short brainstorming sessions should be approached as seriously as any longer meeting type.

Jack’s facilitation for nonprofits presentation shows the number of ideas during a brain storming session peak just after the 6-minute mark. The decline over the next four minutes is significant, and indicates that meeting attendees’ critical thinking begins to slow down at this time. Of course, brainstorming sessions do not have to be cut at the ten-minute mark–significant ideas can occur after 20 or 30 minutes of work–but this type of meeting should run no longer than one half hour, as new ideas are severely diminished by this time.

Idea Flow of Brainstorm graphic

Brainstorming sessions can be quick ways to add to your organization’s growth, but Jack notes that these types of meetings have unique pros and cons any nonprofit management professional should take into account just as seriously as with longer meeting types.

The greatest benefit of brainstorming meetings is that they encourage creativity. These quick, collaborative sessions are so important to workplace creativity that Inc. Magazine says managers should make them a required task for employees. Nonprofits can adapt this habit by setting 10 minutes aside for brainstorming during board, volunteer or staff meetings, and even by highlighting this piece of office culture in strategic planning efforts.

While brainstorming gives nonprofits certain leverages, it also has its downsides: first, the quick-draw, free-for-all setting can allow a small number of participants to dominate; secondly, the nature of brainstorming sessions does not include a way to prioritize the discussed information. To balance this, those in charge of facilitation for nonprofits should conduct complimentary strategies like the Nominal Group Technique–this encourages wider participation, allows a group to narrow down and prioritize information, and can apply to groups of all sizes. We will discuss this and other facilitation topics next week.

ESC of New England provides affordable capacity building and management consulting in a variety of areas including facilitation, strategic management and program evaluation.