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June 25, 2022
Advance Planning and Proper Structure Lead to Productive Meetings
Book - Leading Great Meetings
For nonprofit leaders who may lament the sometimes plodding nature of board meetings (and perhaps even their own staff conclaves), the good news is it doesn’t have to be that way ”“ if they apply the lessons, tools, and tips offered in Leading Great Meetings: How to Structure Yours for Success.

Based on 25 years’ experience facilitating meetings and coaching leaders on their use, author Richard Lent has created a handbook that will enable nonprofit leaders, regardless of organizational size or focus, to make all their meetings fully productive.

Great meetings, he writes, build on choices you as a meeting planner make: how you define the work of the meeting, who gets invited, how you design the discussion, how you intend to reach decisions, how you plan to spend meeting time, and how you arrange the meeting space.

Doing this upfront work is critical, for it’s the lack of attention to real planning that is the source of frustration that many people have with meetings, Lent argues.

“Using the right meeting structure enables people to talk together more effectively without having to remember how to behave,” Lent notes. “Most recommendations for better meeting emphasize adopting rules or changing behavior. But when discussions get heated, people ignore the rules and good behavior is hard to maintain. Structure can create a naturally productive meeting.”

Productive conversations and decisions are the hallmarks of effective meetings, and the agenda plays a decisive role, according to Lent. Instead of a bare bones listing of items to be discussed, Lent suggests developing a more complete agenda that serves as a road map that will help participants understand issues to be discussed and what the discussion process will be.

For example, instead of an agenda item that simply says “Transition Town initiative decision,” add details, such as: 1) Review summary of the proposed design (10 minutes); 2) Break into 3 groups for discussion of specific groups that address the following three questions...(15 minutes); 3) Full group discussion on answers to the three questions (20 minutes); 4) Decision: Do we want to support this initiative? If yes, how do we begin? Who will take the lead? (15 minutes).

According to Lent, groups make decisions in one of five basic ways: through consensus, consent, compromise, counting, and consulting. All approaches have their place, but it’s up to the group leader to make clear to everyone how the decision is to be made after discussion is held.

Despite the best of intentions, meetings don’t always go as planned. Participants may be at odds with each other, the conversation may wander, the issue being discussed may be highly contentious, or, in an emergency, there may be little time to prepare. True to his intent to create a handbook, Lent offers detailed suggestions to address each situation.

In addition to offering experience-driven insights, Lent provides 32 techniques and processes, which he calls tools, to address specific meeting challenges. For each, he explains what it is, why use it, and how to apply it, along with tips to achieve the intended results.

Leading Great Meetings: How to Structure Yours for Success is available from Meeting for Results.

Reviewed by Peter Lowy

July 2015
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