Leading Group Meetings
How many times have you complained that a meeting you attended was a waste of time? Good group meetings do not just happen. Rather, they are intentionally planned, facilitated and followed up. One of the principal duties that both formal and informal leaders perform is to plan and run effective group meetings. Here are some guidelines that can help leaders make meetings productive.
Before the Meeting
1. Prepare the agenda. An agenda is an organized outline of the items that need to be covered during a meeting. Items for the agenda come from reviewing the minutes of the last meeting to determine what the group agreed to take as next steps and from new issues that have arisen since the last meeting. Effective leaders make sure the agenda is appropriate for the length of the meeting. A group meeting to decide which one of three courses to offer over the Internet next semester.
2. Decide who should attend the meeting. In most cases, all members of a group will attend meetings. Occasionally, one or more members of the group may not need to attend a particular meeting but may only need to be informed of the outcomes of the meeting.
3. Arrange an appropriate location and meeting time. Be sure that the location has all the equipment and supplies the group will need to work effectively. This may include arranging for audiovisual equipment, computers and other specialized equipment. Groups become less effective in long meetings and ideally a meeting should last no longer than ninety minutes. If a meeting must be planned for a longer period of time, schedule hourly breaks to avoid fatigue.
4. Distribute the agenda. The agenda should be in the hands of attendees several days before the meeting. Unless group members get an agenda ahead of time, they will not be able to prepare for the meeting.
5. Speak with each participant prior to the meeting. It is important to understand members positions and personal goals. Spending time pre working issues helps the leader anticipate conflicts that are likely to emerge and plan how to manage them so that the group makes effective decisions and maintains cohesiveness.
During the Meeting
1. Review and modify the agenda. Begin the meeting by reviewing the agenda and modifying it based on members suggestions. Because things can change between the time an agenda is distributed and when the meeting is held, reviewing the agenda ensures that the group is working on items that are still important and relevant. Reviewing the agenda also gives members a chance to control what is to be discussed.
2. Monitor roles members assume and consciously play needed roles that are unfilled by others. The role of the leader during a discussion is to provide the task or procedural direction and relationship management that the group lacks. Leaders need to maintain awareness of what specific roles are needed by the group at a specific time. When other group members are assuming the necessary roles, the leader need do nothing. But when there is need for a particular role and members are not assuming that role, the leader should perform the necessary behaviors. For example, if the leader notices that some people are talking more than their fair share and that no one else is trying to draw out quieter members, the leader should assume the gatekeeper role and ask reluctant members to comment on the discussion.
3. Monitor the time so that the group stays on schedule. It is easy for a group to get bogged down in a discussion. Although another group member may serve as expediter, it is the leader’s responsibility to make sure the group stays on schedule.
4. Monitor conflicts and intervene as needed. A healthy level of conflict should be encouraged in the group so that issues are fully examined. But if the conflict level becomes dysfunctional, the leader may need to mediate so that relationships are not unduly strained.
5. Periodically check to see if the group is ready to make a decision. The leader of the group should listen for agreement and move the group into its formal decision process when the leader senses that discussion is no longer adding insight.
6. Implement the group’s decision rules. The leader is responsible for overseeing that the decision making rule the group has agreed to is used. If the group is deciding by consensus, the leader must make sure that all members feel that the chosen alternative is one that they can support. If the group is deciding by majority rule, the leader calls for the vote and tallies the results.
7. Before ending the meeting, summarize decisions. To bring closure to the meeting and to make sure that each member leaving the meeting is clear about what has been accomplished, the leader should summarize what has happened in the meeting, reiterate task responsibilities assigned to members and review the next steps that have been planned.
8. Ask the group to decide if and when another meeting is needed. Ongoing groups should be careful not to meet just for the sake of meeting. Leaders should clarify with members when and if, future meetings are necessary. The overall purposes of future meetings will dictate the agenda that will need to be prepared.
Meeting Follow up
1. Review the meeting outcomes and process. A good leader learns how to be more effective by reflecting on and analyzing how well the previous meeting went. Leaders need to think about whether the meeting accomplished its goals and whether group cohesion was improved or damaged in the process.
2. Prepare and distribute a summary of meeting outcomes. Although some groups have a member who serves at the recorder and who distributes minutes, many groups rely on their leaders. A written record of what was agreed to, accomplished and next steps serve to remind group members of the work they have to do. If the group has a recorder, the leader should check to make sure that minutes are distributed in a timely manner.
3. Repair damaged relationships through informal conversations. If the debate during the meeting has been heated, it is likely that some people have damaged their relationships with others or left the meeting angry or hurt. Leaders can help repair relationships by seeking out these participants and talking with them. Through empathetic listening, leaders can soothe hurt feelings and spark a re-commitment to the group.
4. Follow up with members to see how they are progressing on items assigned to them. When participants have been assigned specific task responsibilities, the leader should check with them to see if they have encountered any problems in completing those tasks.
Evaluating Group Effectiveness
There is an old saying that goes, “A camel is a horse built by a committee.” Although this saying is humorous, for some groups it is also true. If we are to avoid ending up with camels when we want horses, we need to understand how to assess a group’s effectiveness and how to improve group processes based on those evaluations. Groups can be evaluated on the quality of the decision, the quality of role taking and the quality of leadership.
The questionnaire provides one method for evaluating the quality of a group’s decision based on three major aspects of groups: group characteristics, member relationships and problem solving ability.
That a group meets to discuss an issue does not necessarily mean that it will arrive at a decision. As foolish as it may seem, some groups thrash away for hours only to adjourn without having reached a conclusion. Of course, some groups discuss such serious problems that a decision cannot be made without several meetings. In such cases, it is important that the group adjourn with a clear understanding of what the next step will be. When a group “finishes” its work without arriving at some decision, however, the result is likely to be frustration and disillusionment.
Individual Participation and Role Behavior
Although a group will struggle without good leadership, it may not be able to function at all without members who are willing and able to meet the task, maintenance and procedural functions of the group.
Some group discussions are leaderless, although no discussion should be without leadership. If there is an appointed leader and most groups have one evaluation can focus on that individual. If the group is truly leaderless, the evaluation should consider attempts at leadership by various members or focus on the apparent leader who emerges from the group. A simple checklist for evaluating group leadership.
Summary (Member Roles and Leadership in Groups)
When individuals interact in groups, they assume roles. A role is a specific pattern of behavior that a member of the group performs based on the expectations of others.
There are four types of roles: task oriented roles, maintenance roles, procedural roles and self centered roles. Members select the roles they will play based on how roles fit with their personality, what is required of them by virtue of a position they hold and what roles the group needs to have assumed that are not being played by other members. One role that is of particular importance to effective group functioning is the leadership role.
Leadership is the process of influencing members to accomplish goals. As such, leadership is a general role that includes providing whatever is needed by the group but missing in other members behavior, Groups may have a single leader, but more commonly leadership is shared among group members. Groups may have both formal and informal leaders. Formal leaders have formal authority given to them either by some entity outside of the group or by the group members themselves. Informal leaders emerge during a two stage process. Individuals who want to become recognized as informal leaders in a group should come to group meetings prepared, actively participate in discussions, actively listen to others, avoid appearing bossy or stating overly strong opinions and manage the meaning for other participants by framing.
Both members and leaders can improve the effectiveness of the meetings they attend by pre meeting preparations, during meeting behaviors, and post meeting activities.