Preventative techniques to avoid problems in meetings

Meetings that are effective and positive usually have the following characteristics:

Create a positive outcome

Making sure that you have a positive outcome in your mind and/or written down greatly increases your chance of having a positive outcome and avoiding problems. This is because your brain will pick up on the positive signs that things are going well, and if you spot deviations from this you can take action to bring the meeting back on course. Make sure you state what you want in positive terms in relation to both the task and the process. Then what you will see, hear and feel when you have achieved this.

Use a ‘car park’ sheet

A Car Park Sheet is a piece of flipchart paper stuck on the wall, which can be used to ‘park’ ideas, questions, queries which cannot be dealt with during the meeting, but need to be taken up at a later date. This can avoid lengthy discussions about things which are not central to what you need to do and/or cannot be resolved during the meeting Agree how the car park will be used, allow anyone to write on it, and decide who will deal with the issues and by when. This also makes sure that once an issue is ‘parked’ it is not discussed again in the meeting.

Set boundaries

This can be especially useful for groups who are going to meet on a regular basis, but the boundaries can be adapted for other situations. Boundaries set down agreed ways of behaving in a group which can help with the smooth running of a meeting. Here are a few of the boundaries you might like to consider using, although the best boundaries are those that a group creates together.

Possible boundaries

  • Everyone can contribute their ideas, experiences and questions to the discussion
  • Everyone can answer questions, rather than leave this to the chairperson
  • If you are a talkative member, please leave some space for others to talk
  • If you are a quiet member, we would love to hear your ideas
  • Only one discussion can take place at a time, unless we decided to pair up or split into groups to discuss something
  • If an idea or question cannot be discussed it will be ‘parked’ in the car park
  • Once an issue is ‘parked’ it will not be discussed any further during that meeting
  • Most of the time there are no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ points of view, just different interpretations or views on a situation. If there are differences of opinion it is sometimes better to hear different people’s views then go away, think about them, and then come back at a later date to listen further
  • People commit to turn up, take an active role and action what they have said they will do
  • If energy levels are low, anyone can suggest a break
  • If appropriate, mobiles and pagers switched off.

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