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Running Effective Meetings by Mastering 3P’s: Purpose, Process & People

By Claire Laughlin (1627 words)
Posted in Communication Skills on May 30, 2013

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By Claire Laughlin, Consultant & Trainer, Leadership 4 Design

Meetings should be dynamic and engaging events that bring the talents and diverse experiences and knowledge of team members to bear on important problems and decisions that must be made. But far too often, they are painful, unnecessary, and a colossal waste of time. If you want to start running effective meetings, you need to start paying attention to three key areas (the 3 Ps) during your meeting planning.  Your efforts will result in much more engaging meetings with much better outcomes.


Imagine this: It’s Monday morning and you are settling in to a 2-hour meeting. Not only are you concerned about spending the better part of the morning away from the critical tasks that need your attention, you are also surrounded by people who are checking their e-mail on their smart phones under the table and who have come to the meeting unprepared to make the decisions listed on the agenda. Half of the items that the team agreed to complete at the last meeting have been forgotten or are now irrelevant, and you notice yourself dreaming about a double espresso because the speaker is reading you the slide presentation (word for word) that was sent out last Thursday. The worst part, is that you know from experience that a number of the meeting participants will be having another “informal” meeting after this one- out in the hallway. In that “meeting after the meeting,” they will express their disagreement and frustration with the decisions that were made, and three quarters of what happens this morning will be ignored, reversed or (at a minimum) resisted.


Meeting dynamics like this are quite common, and it is a workplace tragedy.


Meetings should be dynamic and engaging events that bring the talents and diverse experiences and knowledge of team members to bear on important problems and decisions that must be made. But this requires planning. Remember these three key areas the next time you are planning a meeting: Purpose, Process and People.


Mastering The 3P’s: Purpose, Process & People



All meetings need to have a clear and discernable purpose. For example, “to make a decision about purchasing a new office copier.” Or, “to generate ideas for a 25th anniversary celebration.” Or, “to draft a project plan for launching our new product.” Each of these purposes can be achieved in several well-planned steps, but having clarity about what is to be accomplished in the meeting is critical. Even the standard, “to share updates on important projects” would be preferable to no stated purpose at all.


The purpose statement should be listed at the top of the agenda, and all activities within the meeting should align to that purpose. The purpose should also be “do-able.” Instead of defining a problem and finding a solution in the same meeting, consider breaking the process down into two different meetings. (Of course, this will depend upon who is coming to the meeting, how far they are traveling, and how much time you can reasonably dedicate to your meeting.)


Once your purpose is clear and defined, make sure that everyone understands the purpose prior to the meeting. Knowing the purpose in advance gives participants the opportunity to “weigh in,” and to make sure that they come prepared. It also allows them to send a person in their place with proper decision-making authority if they are unable to attend for some reason.


The second area to consider is Process:

Many of our meetings rely on “presentations” and “discussion” as the default processes. A person “in the know” makes a presentation of basic data. The floor then opens for discussion, which leads to an amoeba-like decision. Usually, the person with the most authority in the room (or the most charisma, or with the loudest voice) has the last word, and the rest of the group goes along with it. At best, this can result in participants becoming less and less engaged over time. At worst, poor and costly decisions are made because the right choices are not deliberated in an effective manner.


Meetings can involve lots of different processes. Brainstorming, mind-mapping, small group break-outs, “pro-con” debates, dot-voting and round-robin discussions are just a few that can shake things up a bit, and are quite common and well received by most. It behooves the meeting facilitator to become versed in many different processes that can engage different types of participants in different ways. As you “mix-up” your meeting processes, you’ll find that participants stay awake and engaged, and that your outcomes are much better.


The third P stands for People:

It is critical as the meeting facilitator that you know who NEEDS to come to your meeting in order for you to achieve your purpose and make the most of the meeting time dedicated. Your stakeholders need to be invited in a timely manner, and they need to understand what will be expected of them when they arrive.


Another important part of the people dynamic is thinking through the personalities and positions of the folks who will come and how those might play out in relation to your meeting purpose and process. For example, if you will be having the CEO as a meeting participant, and you will be deliberating the pros and cons of a potential decision, you might select a process that “neutralizes” the position power of the CEO while you deliberate the different decision choices. You might have participants write the pros and cons of each choice on cards and put them in a basket, for example, and then all of the information can be processed equally.


Planning on how to engage the introverts as well as the extroverts is another key to effective meetings. Some people are quick thinkers and fast talkers. Others are  more reflective and they need time to process. Unless these kinds of issues are considered and planned for in advance by using appropriate processes, the fast thinkers and talkers may be making all of the decisions- and this will have a tremendous cost in terms of lost talent.


Even when you have planned well for all of the 3 Ps (Purpose, Process and People) you still need to make sure that you leave ample time to engage participants. Allow yourself a week before a routine meeting to plan the agenda, and much longer than that if you are hoping to bring together a special team for a special purpose. Planning time cannot be underestimated. Being clear on what you want to accomplish in advance allows you to “percolate” the nuance of the problem and conduct a much better meeting in the end.


Of course, it must be said that the most well planned meeting also needs a skilled facilitator. Having the skill to move a group through the ups and downs of a complex process; to manage difficult emotions or people; and to hold the space for disagreement and quality decision-making in the face of well-worn habits or power differentials, will make all the difference in the success of your meeting. Facilitation-skill is an important competency in any organization, and yet it is often taken for granted. If you are a person who runs many meetings, I urge you to take the time to get the right training and practice. Find a mentor and take a course. This is a critical skill for the effectiveness of any group or organization, and you’ll have much better meetings if you do!


Free Meeting Planning Downloads:

Action Item List Template


Offsite Meeting Checklist & Strategic Guide


{#/pub/images/ClaireLaughlin.jpg}Written by Claire Laughlin, Consultant & Trainer, Leadership 4 Design
As an independent consultant and trainer with 20 years of diverse experience, Claire Laughlin brings a passion for improving relationships, experience in management, and a relentless dedication to transformation to all of her work. She is fully committed to working with individuals, teams, and organizations as they learn and cultivate the habits and practices that make their organizational dynamics healthy and highly productive. Claire's experience spans Leadership to Communication Essentials to Project Management & Customer Service and has designed and taught over one hundred courses at over 60 organizations and seven different colleges and universities. In addition to her consultancy work, Claire directs Cabrillo College's Corporate Training Program.


Do you have a question for Claire?  Please visit our Workplace Communication Skills Community, she will be happy to help: Ask an Expert


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Comments (1)

Robert McNeil posted on: August 10, 2014

Why not just say the truth? "I feel frustrated, I believe I am wasting my time here. Does anyone else feel this way?" That would change the dynamics and take the meeting to a new level. Usually in a group I am not the only one who feels something. Saying what I am feeling brings the whole group to here and now. I know it's hard to do. But it's better than sitting there and allowing the ineffective process to continue. This would allow a discussion about the three P's

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