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#135: Efficient Use of Meeting Time

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Friday, September 18, 2009
Updated: Friday, September 18, 2009
With several clients, my meetings seem to be less productive than they usually are and occasionally we have to schedule another meeting to finish our work. Any tips on how to help clients be better prepared?

I assume you are talking about getting everything you want done in a session. But what gets done during a session is only half the reason for a meeting. The other part is what we want the parties to think, feel and believe both prior to and at the conclusion of a meeting. When we plan a meeting (if we even do think through the meeting in advance) with only an agenda of topics to cover, we shortchange the process and waste a lot of everyone's time. This applies with client-consultant meetings as well as any meeting between two people. The success of a meeting is in the preparation, and full preparation may take more time than the meeting itself.

Consider the following prerequisites to hold an effective meeting (as the consultant, it is our job to see that these get done, either by us or our client):
  • Ask whether a meeting is the most effective vehicle for what you want to do ("let's meet" is a reflexive response to the need for any decision, information transfer or inquiry, but there may be less intrusive or more effective ways to accomplish these objectives)
  • Decide who really needs to attend (if you are not contributing something or making a decision, read it in the minutes)
  • Specify what preparation must be completed (don't occupy time in a meeting with tasks that can be done alone in advance)
  • Make sure information needed for distribution or decisions is in hand (never delay a decision or assignment because you don't have data)
  • Be sure attendees are emotionally ready (usually overlooked; if a decision is to be made, are questions answered, has there been adequate time to socialize a tough decision or do attendees know each other well enough to avoid confrontations?)
  • Assure enough time is available for complete discussion and deliberation (do a dry run of the meeting to be sure enough time has been allocated for full deliberation (sequence meeting items to be sure that delays can be accommodated by deferring items or extending the meeting)
  • Confirm meeting process/ground rules are acceptable (how will decisions be made, who will hold people accountable for action steps, and who is running the meeting?).
Other items are a function of the type of meeting you are conducting.

Tip: To the extent possible, clients should always run consultant/client meetings. Even if the consultant planned the meeting, prepared the presentation or advance materials, and was material in creating the decision framework for the meeting, the client needs to be in charge. Meetings in which the consultant drives send a subtle but powerful message that the consultant is responsible, if not accountable, for managerial decisions. This undermines the client's confidence in their own ability and position to manage their organization.

© 2009 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  client service  consultant role  consulting process  engagement management  meeting preparation 

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