Whatever your leadership role, the time you spend together with colleagues is precious and usually quite limited. But it has the potential to both support the effective working of a team or, if badly handled, to actually have the reverse effect! In thinking about meetings, it’s just as important to remind yourself that often what happens before or after a meeting can sometimes be just as important as the things that actually happen in the meeting.
Before a meeting
First of all, make sure you have a clear process for setting an agenda, prioritising items and clarifying who will lead each item. You need to remember, it isn’t your job to lead each item. The more others take the lead, the more you will be working as a team rather than as a group of individuals that are doing what they are told. You should aim to make sure each agenda item has a clear time allocation. You should be clear in advance what the outcome required for each item is – for information, discussion, or decision? Ensure you allow sufficient time for people to read papers in advance of the meeting, so that all participants in a meeting can reasonably be expected to have read material before a meeting. Try to predict which areas for discussion may need careful handling and think about whether any pre-discussions may be appropriate.
During a meeting
At the start of the meeting it can sometimes be helpful for you to review the agenda and reprioritise if there appears to be insufficient time to cover all the items. When doing this, you should make sure you think about those items that are important not just those that appear urgent.
You should make sure you have agreed who is going to record any actions from the meeting and who is keeping an eye on timings. Sometimes it makes sense for this to be someone other than the person chairing the meeting. Whoever is chairing the meeting should try to create a climate where everyone has the opportunity to contribute. Sometimes this may mean inviting individuals to make a contribution, particularly if they are less confident or more shy, in a way that won’t cause undue embarrassment or resentment.
But the golden rule is to make sure all your meetings finish on time. This will require the whole team to resist the temptation to go off on a tangent or go into too much operational detail. Often, these discussions can be more effectively considered by a smaller group of individuals outside the meeting. When you feel the time is right, you may want to suggest rotating the chair of meetings. This is a powerful way of showing the whole team that they will have an important role to play as well as giving them the opportunity to develop new skills.
At the end of the meeting, if it is helpful, try to take time to review the key actions. Where appropriate, you should agree to the date and time of the next meeting and make sure you finish by thanking all participants and finish on a positive note, however difficult earlier discussions may have been.
After a meeting
Stress the importance that the note of actions is agreed and circulated promptly. Where there have been particularly sensitive discussions, consider whether a short post-discussion conversation may be appropriate with any individuals. From time to time, ask people in their team for feedback. What can you do to improve your meetings?
This blog has very much focused on the ‘how’ of meetings. Depending on the context of your meetings and role, the ‘what’ and the ‘why’ will undoubtedly vary. The crucial test for me, however, is being clear about how what you are discussing will have an impact on teaching and pupil outcomes. This question is as relevant for a MAT CEO as it is a head of numeracy in a primary school.
This blog is taken from a chapter from Leadership Matters that examines how leaders create great teams. You can order your copy here.