Productive meeting management

Without at least minimal structure, meetings can easily become unproductive, often lapsing into endless disagreements or domination by one or two individuals who are unwilling to let others voice opinions. You’ve probably experienced such meetings during your time as a graduate student and know how exasperating they can be.

The following suggestions provide a simple format to ensure results-oriented meetings:

  • Appoint or elect a chair.
    • The chair’s role is to request agenda items from group members and, prior to the meeting, email the finalized agenda to participants 2-3 days days prior to the meeting.
    • The chair is the meeting manager and process facilitator—impartial and uninvolved in the decision making process—who keeps the group on topic within pre-determined time constraints, focuses on resolution of issues, decision making, actions to be taken, and the overall forward movement of the group.
    • As process facilitator, the chair also manages the discussion of issues, ensuring that both sides of an issue are equally represented; calls on individuals to offer perspectives (3-4 minute time limit for each); attempts to include everyone in discussions; ensures that no one dominates, strays off topic, interrupts others; and minimizes side bar conversations when others speak.
    • When necessary, the chair directs the voting process on actionable items, elections, et cetera.
    • At meeting’s end, the chair also summarizes approved actions, who’s responsible, and the timelines for completing tasks.
  • Appoint or elect a note-taker.
    • To keep an ongoing record, the note-taker records brief notes of issues discussed, agreed upon actions, and those responsible for completing tasks—as well as deadlines for completing them—then circulates the notes 1-2 days after the meeting.