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Positively Beautiful: How to run a happy, productive meeting

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Meetings. Just the word can elicit eye rolls or a collective groan. But they are vital to effective group communication. Family meetings. Committee meetings. Volunteer meetings. Board meetings. Staff training meetings. In-person meetings. Virtual meetings. Mastermind meetings.

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Since launching my medical center 14 years ago, I’m almost afraid to try and tabulate the number of hours I’ve spent in “meeting mode.” I’m probably on my way to being a 10,000-hour expert.

I’ve learned there’s an art to leading a happy, productive meeting – one in which real progress gets made and everybody’s ideas get to come out and play. They can even be fun and healthy.

Here are my tips on running a meeting that you can be proud of:

1. Getting to know you.

The best part of working on a project together is establishing and deepening relationships. Meeting new friends is a major source of joy for me in board service.

Even in our small office of 30 employees at Catalyst, not everyone has a chance to chat on a regular basis. We use staff meetings to give personal updates. We share about our kids, favorite grade-school memories, a recent vacation, new hobbies, favorite recipes or home projects.

For our TEDxFargo meetings, we have a diverse group that gathers early Wednesday mornings. We go around the table and do a brief introduction and a fun fact. One week was “words to live by” and another was “favorite Easter candy.”

2. Celebrate progress.

It’s easy to get bogged down by everything that’s “not working” or “not finished yet.” But what about everything that’s going right? Kick off each meeting by taking a moment to acknowledge something good: a job well done, a recent success or a small contribution that every team member has already made.

3. Champion every voice.

Sometimes, younger employees will be hesitant to speak up, but their ideas are just as valuable as anybody else’s.

Say: “We’re a team, and everyone’s input is equally valuable. Let’s make sure that everybody gets an opportunity to speak.”

Once again, a ’round-the-table approach works well.

4. Make it “safe” to share difficult truths.

Often, the most valuable feedback a group of people can hear is the one thing that nobody wants to say.

Make it safe by offering people the option of writing feedback anonymously and submitting it before the meeting or coming to privately speak with you.

5. Keep the energy moving.

As the leader of the meeting, it’s up to you to keep the energy flowing. If you sense one person is dominating the conversation or starting to ramble and repeat themselves, gently interject and say: “That’s a great point, (name). I think we can all agree the big takeaway from what you’ve just said is (reiterate their main point). In the interest of time, I’d love to move on to the next item on our agenda. Are we all ready for that?”

A timer can be helpful if you want to break up into groups of two or three to chat about an issue. Reconvene at the sound of the alarm.

6. More movement.

Speaking of energy, try a walking meeting for a small group. And since sitting for eight hours a day conveys the same mortality risk as cigarette smoking, consider a standing meeting or at least take a few stretch and move breaks.

7. Know your “why.”

All too often, people hold meetings because they think they are supposed to or simply because it’s on the calendar as a recurring event. Those kinds of meetings are rarely productive.

The best meetings always begin with a clear intention – a specific reason for being there, a purpose, a goal of finding a solution. Open and close your meeting by reiterating your “why.”

I think the key word is “solution.” So often we discuss issues – and discuss them some more – without agreeing upon and actionable solution.

Opening: “Thank you for joining me this morning. The reason we’re here today is to find a solution to … I’m so excited to brainstorm with all of you.”

Closing: “Thank you for spending this time with me. I’m so thrilled that we were able to find a solution to … I’m excited to put this plan into motion.”

This will ensure that people go home feeling accomplished, instead of scratching their heads, wondering, “What the heck did I just do in there?”

Meeting with other people can be a total chore or the very best part of your day. The right attitude, structure and leadership make all the difference.

Here’s to happier meetings and getting things done!

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Dr. Susan Mathison
Dr. Susan Mathison founded Catalyst Medical Center in Fargo and created PositivelyBeautiful.com. She also blogs at positivelybeautiful.areavoices.com
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