Making Meetings Matter—A How to Guide
By Dustin K. Hunter
Dustin K. Hunter is an assistant editor of The Affiliate and partner in the Roswell, New Mexico, firm of Kraft & Hunter LLP.
Have you ever participated in a meeting at which it seemed as though no one knew where they were going and there was no particular hurry to get there? The meetings of your affiliate young lawyer organization can and should be different. It is possible to hold a meeting that your members actually look forward to attending and that serves as an effective motivational tool to implement your strategic plan. That is because running a meeting, like any other leadership activity, is a skill that can be learned and refined through planning and preparation.
The effective use of an agenda is the single most important element to ensuring that you will have a successful meeting. An agenda is more than a list of topics to cover; it is an identification of your goals as they affect your strategic plan and your roadmap for getting those goals accomplished. In developing your agenda, you should evaluate your goals for your affiliate organization and specify the items you want to accomplish in order of importance. Next to each agenda item, note whether it requires action or a vote or whether it is for informational purposes only. You should also put the name of the person responsible for the item as well as the time allotted for dealing with this specific item during the meeting. “Putting the name of the person responsible for the item to be discussed is critical,” said Lashawn Jenkins, treasurer of the Maricopa County Bar Association Young Lawyers Division in Phoenix, Arizona. “It provides accountability and helps to ensure that projects are completed timely.”
After you have created your proposed agenda, it is a good idea to send a draft to your key members and ask for input. This serves the dual purposes of reminding your members of what they previously agreed to do because they see their names on the agenda and enlisting their aid in implementing the organization’s strategic plan for the year by enabling them to make your plan theirs. Both are critical to maintaining motivated members.
During the meeting, be sure to use the agenda and do not deviate from it. “Follow the agenda and stick to the time allotted for each item,” recommended Hope Caldwell, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, editor of The Young Lawyer. “By running the meeting, you are expected to bring everyone back to the tasks at hand if the discussion gets off track. If you fail to keep on task and schedule, your members will not want to attend the next meeting.”
Facilitation During the Meeting Is Your Primary Responsibility
The goal of the meeting is to accomplish everything that you have set forth in the agenda. Once the meeting has begun, however, your primary responsibility is to act as a facilitator to address all items of concern facing your young lawyer organization. In doing so, you must remain neutral. If you need to take a position on an issue, you should ask someone else to temporarily run the meeting while you make your case. If you fail to remain neutral in your position while leading the meeting, you will lose credibility and the appearance of impartiality that is essential to effectively facilitate challenging issues. Moreover, as the leader, you are responsible for setting the ground rules for discussion, keeping the meeting on task and on point, and also encouraging participation from all young lawyer members. The agenda will be your roadmap to make sure that you stay on track and address the right topics.
Start and Finish on Time—No Exceptions
Expect meetings to begin and end at the times stated in the agenda. One of the greatest impediments to starting a meeting on time is the decision to “wait five minutes” after the scheduled time to see who else shows up. This is a huge mistake that actually encourages your members to arrive late because they know that the meeting will wait for them. Instead, start the meeting without the late attendees. When they arrive and see that the meeting has already begun, they will get the message and will be on time for the next meeting. Jeffery Mayer, If You Haven’t Got the Time to Do It Right, When Will You Find the Time to Do It, at 98–101 (Fireside, 1st ed. 1991).
Similarly, when the time to end the meeting has arrived, do it. Because you planned out your agenda carefully, dealt with the most important topics first, and kept to the scheduled times listed in the agenda, you will have accomplished everything you set out to cover during the meeting and you will be able to adjourn the meeting at the scheduled time.
If any important decisions were made at the meeting that require follow-up or action by the members, these decisions need to be confirmed again in a final recap. Try to make sure that everyone leaves the meeting knowing what is expected of them and what next steps should be taken. Make sure that those members who are to take action understand that they are accountable for these tasks. It is also a good idea to specify the time-frame for completion. Bill Collier, How to Run an Effective Meeting, St. Louis Business Monthly, Oct. 2005. Since the members accomplished everything on the agenda and they know what to do next, the meeting was a success and you are on your way to a successful year.
Additional resources on running your meetings and motivating your members are available at the ABA YLD website at www.abanet.org/yld/affiliate.shtml.