Question of the Week

Our chair runs the most horrible meeting ever.  The problem with that is that I’m the chair!  Do you have any tips that could help me?

Do we ever.  The chair is the presiding officer and being the chair is hard work, so here are some tips for the chairs, or anyone, to have an efficient meeting:

Tip #1. Start on time.  If a meeting isn’t started on time, chances are it won’t end on time.  Starting on time shows that the chair has expectations for his or her meeting.  If the chair is taking the meeting seriously, the participants will more than likely take it seriously, and not treat it as a weekly, monthly, etc., casual get‑together.

Also, if a meeting always starts on time, the participants will more than likely be there on time.  No one likes to walk into a meeting late.  But, if the meeting never starts on time, the participants may start thinking “Well, it’s 15 minutes past the start time, so the meeting probably didn’t start, but if it did, I’m not going to be that late.”  Or, being late becomes a joke “I can believe you started already – it’s only 15 minutes past the start time!  What happened, did everyone synchronize their watches?”

Being late to a meeting disrupts the meeting.  The participant who is late may not pick up on the discussion, or if the chair summarizes what has already been discussed for the late-comer, the chair may “lose” those who were there on time.

So, start on time, no matter who is in the room, don’t summarize for late-comers – that can be done after the meeting, and no excuses for being late.  It sounds rigid, but when the word gets around that you start on time, that’s one building block in running an efficient and effective meeting.

Tip #2. Encourage participation.  The chair should get every attendee involved.  Some attendees may not speak because he or she may be shy, or feel intimidated, but the chair should draw those attendees in to get multiple points of view.

Tip #3. Limit the conversation.  This doesn’t mean that the chair should not hear from everyone who wants to contribute their point of view.  The purpose of a meeting is to get different points of view, then make a decision.  What “limit the conversation” means is that if a couple of people in the room are making the same point, over and over again, that’s unproductive, so the chair should step in and say “Ok, any other points of view that we haven’t discussed yet?”  Also, if a discussion “drifts,” the chair should step in and restate the purpose of the discussion.  This can be hard to do, because chairs don’t want to be seen as dictators, but it is a skill that needs to be developed.  Otherwise, the participants start thinking the meeting is a waste of time, and the downward spiral begins.

Tip #4. Take an issue off-line.  There are times when a meeting is getting bogged down because no one has the information needed to make a decision.  For example, is the bylaws revision being discussed a Joint Commission Standard?  A Medicare Condition of Participation?  A best practice?  If no one knows for sure, further discussion will not help the committee make a decision, so that issue should be taken off the agenda until the next meeting, to research the issue.

Another reason to take an issue off the agenda is because there are so many conflicting points of view that won’t be able to be resolved at the meeting.  The chair should be able to recognize that no matter how much more discussion there is, the issue won’t be resolved.  So, at that point, the chair should stop the discussion, and maybe appoint a small group to investigate or research the issue, then bring the results back to the committee.

Tip #5. End on time.  If a meeting is to end at 8:30 a.m., end the meeting.  Although some attendees don’t mind going over, the majority will start thinking about work that needs to be done, or another meeting to go to, or an appointment to make.  A meeting that runs on and on and on isn’t efficient and becomes much less effective as time goes on.  The chair should remember that he or she is dealing with attendees who have volunteered their time to participate on this committee and be at this meeting, so respect their time.

Also, not ending on time affects meeting attendance.  If an attendee knows that the meeting always goes over, he or she is less likely to attend the meeting.

It’s just a fact that sometimes agendas are just too full, or there may have been too much discussion on one issue, etc. – that happens.  But, instead of plowing on through with more and more disinterested attendees as each minute ticks by, just end the meeting, and hold those agenda items over for the next meeting.  The exception is if the issue is of critical importance, but that will be few and far between.

Final Tip: Introduce visitors.  The chair should introduce visitors, or participants who are attending their first meeting and may not know everyone in the room.  This will make them feel welcome, and keep everyone focused on the meeting instead of asking, or thinking “Who is that, and why are they here?”

If you have a quick question about this, e-mail Nick Calabrese at