Last week we wrote about the use of time limits on meeting agendas. As we discussed, the committees we facilitate rarely need these constraints to complete their work.
Last time, we talked about the role of effective facilitation in helping a team complete their agendas at meetings, rather than be forced to limit discussion through time limits. A good facilitator can help keep the discussion focused. The facilitator can also work between meetings to help craft the agenda and deal with two other roadblocks to effective meetings, having too many items on the agenda, and the inability of the team to make decisions. As we noted last time, each of these can be resolved without the use of time limits.
Too many items on the agenda – If your team has difficulty completing their agenda, it’s time to find better ways to manage your work. To resolve the problem, we first must ask why it occurs.
- How often does your team meet? If there are too many items, is it because you need to meet more often to deal with them? While not many people relish the thought of more meetings, they may help your team accomplish its mission. As you team becomes more effective at dealing with problems, it may become possible to scale back on meeting frequency at that point.
- Do you have speakers at your meetings? It is a good idea to have people from outside the committee make presentations about problems the team is considering. These presentations can take time, so this could be one time when it is reasonable to put a time limit on the speaker. The facilitator or team members can meet with the presenter prior to the meeting to determine an appropriate limit.
- Are you providing information between meetings? If team members provide a written description or details about agenda items, it can save time at meetings. Members will also have the opportunity to gather their own information and come to the meeting prepared to discuss the item.
- Are all agenda items appropriate for the agenda? We work with committees to establish their boundaries. Items within the boundaries are those about which the committee can make a decision or recommendation or have influence over. These are appropriate for the agenda. Items outside the boundary are those over which the committee has no effect. While they may be “hot button” items, committee time spent on them will usually be little more than a gripe session. Teams should avoid these items unless they can have an impact upon the item.
Inability of the team to make decisions – if the committee cannot make a decision, it is difficult to move through the agenda. The facilitator will play a critical role with these teams to develop, utilize, and enforce an effective problem-solving process.
While no single process works in all situations, we encourage teams to use the Interest-Based Problem Solving model. We have found it to be effective in helping teams avoid the positional behaviors often found in labor-management settings. It permits the open discussion and sharing of information about the items being discussed while maintaining a structure that leads to problem resolution.
Being able to solve problems effectively will help the team complete agendas without the need for time limits. Good facilitation can maximize the benefit to this process.
Remember that not all problems of any significance can be solved in one meeting. Be willing as a team to spend the time necessary to develop the best possible solution.