I described the first phase of meeting preparation as deciding whether or not a meeting is the best way to fulfill the outcomes you are after. The second phase comes after you have chosen to call a meeting.
Strategizing for success
If a meeting is to be productive it must be well organized, well attended and properly controlled. All three ingredients are made possible through advanced preparation. Preparation sets the stage for success.
The first step is deciding how the meeting will be run. Where it will be held? Who should be there, and what controls (such as a facilitator) will be necessary? The more complicated the outcomes, the more careful the planning must be in terms of participants, location and controls.
The next step is to get agreement among the participants on how the meeting will be managed. No consensus, no meeting. Critical participants must buy-in to the process, or the meeting will not function properly.
Consensus comes from circulating a draft agenda and meeting plan (time, location and controls). The objective is to ensure that everyone knows what the meeting will be about and the relative priority of subjects. Don’t attempt to resolve the agenda at the meeting or the first half will be wasted.
After agreeing on the agenda and plan, the participants must be provided with background materials for agenda items. They must arrive at the meeting fully prepared to discuss the issues, not expecting to be educated about them at the meeting.
Encouraging discussion of agenda items prior to a meeting (possibly by circulating an ‘iterative document’) is an excellent way to save time at meetings. The more debate that can take place in advance, the more efficiently meeting time can be used to arrive at conclusions.
Preparation sets the stage
Meeting preparation is a lot of work. Most of the effort on the part of a meeting owner should take place in advance. If it does, then everyone’s time at the actual meeting will be most efficiently used. It is when meetings are not properly prepared for that they disintegrate into meaningless debates.