5 Keys to Effective School Meetings

It's Monday morning and Ms. Stevens is energized for the week. Sipping on hot coffee, she reflects on a wonderful weekend shared with family and friends.


Gazing at the clock she sees there are 45 minutes until kids arrive. "Perfect!" she expresses after realizing there is plenty of time to prepare for the day.


But the moment she opens her laptop Ms. Stevens receives the following notification: Building Leadership Team Meeting - 15 Minutes.


"Ugh - a meeting?" she says aloud, having completely forgotten. "This is the LAST thing I want to do!"


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If this is a reaction you've had before, you're not alone.


According to a recent Harris Poll, 46 percent of respondents said they'd prefer to do almost anything else besides attend a workplace meeting. 17 percent said they would rather watch paint dry.

And for good reason. Many meetings are unproductive, disorganized, and unfocused. I've sat through many of these meetings and can agree, there are few things more frustrating than a poorly-run meeting.


As leaders, we must understand one of our most important responsibilities is running effective meetings.


In The Advantage Patrick Lencioni suggests, "No action, activity, or process is more central to a healthy organization than the meeting. In fact, if someone were to offer me one single piece of evidence to evaluate the health of an organization, I would want to observe the leadership team during a meeting."


Consider the meetings you attend. If someone were to observe those meetings, would they see?


An efficient team completing worthwhile tasks?

Or a dysfunctional group wasting precious time?


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One of the most common meetings in school districts are "strategic" meetings.


Strategic meetings occur when a group of employees meet to discuss, analyze, and decide upon critical issues affecting the long-term success of a team. Examples include team leader meetings, department chair meetings, school improvement team meetings, and administrative team meetings - to name a few.


Unfortunately, as common as these meetings are, their outcomes are far from identical. Even within the same organization, strategic meetings can range from productive to pointless and everything in between.


What causes such a contrast in meeting results? The leader.


School leaders who accept bad meetings set a precedent for the rest of the organization. When tolerated at the highest levels, bad meetings often become the ceiling of what can be expected in other meetings across the entire school or district.


That's not to say that some employees won't try to make their meetings more effective than their boss. But it's unlikely they'll feel much pressure to do so. Contrast that with leaders who run fantastic meetings. Employees who leave well-managed meetings often feel compelled - if not pressured - to run their own effective meetings.


Think about the meetings you run. Where did you learn how to structure your gatherings? If you are like a majority of employees, your meetings are modeled after a current or former boss. The next time you run a meeting understand your style could be patterned - for better or worse - for years to come.


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What is the difference between effective and ineffective meetings? Here are five items to consider:


Agenda: Productive meetings use an editable agenda sent out ahead of time. Not only should organizers spend time identifying the priorities of the meeting and structuring the discussion, they should also allow attendees to add items to the discussion. Collaborative agendas give others a voice and create buy-in from the group.


Notes: Effective meetings require accurate documentation of discussion and decisions. Too many groups lack discipline in taking notes and then later struggle to recall a conversation. Placing all meeting notes in one electronic document allows teams to use the "search" function to quickly locate details from prior meetings.


Action Steps: No meeting should end without clearly identifying the next actions that are needed. Similar to note-taking, too many facilitators lack the initiative to clarify action steps. For each decision, groups must document the specific action needing to occur, the person or people responsible, and a timeline for completion.


Closure: Although group members may be anxious to adjourn, facilitators must take a few minutes to summarize meetings by revisiting action steps and fielding unanswered questions. Savvy leaders understand what happens after the meeting - as opposed to during the meeting - is the benchmark for effective gatherings.


Follow Through: Leaders are responsible for ensuring teammates follow through on commitments. When a group member forgets or ignores an obligation, the leader must remind the individual of the unfulfilled action step. Employees who consistently disregard commitments significantly limit the effectiveness of the team.


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Still not sold on effective meetings?


Many leaders love to whine about time spent in meetings. "Why do we have to have so many meetings?" they complain. The irony is a great deal of a leader's time is spent addressing issues that come about because those same issues aren't resolved during meetings in the first place.


Meetings have been given a bad rap for way too long.


Let's stop wasting people's time ... and start running effective meetings.

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