Material Excerpts: Meeting Techniques


Tips for Better Meetings


This material is reproduced from the training program materials in Building Better Meetings, Copyright © 2010, Donald F. Barkman, The Business Center, Oak Ridge, TN, All Rights Reserved. This web site material may be copied and reproduced by persons interested in learning about and promoting the program. "The Business Center, Oak Ridge, TN (888-988-2275)" must be acknowledged as the source of the material. For complete information, please refer to the information in the "Seminars" section. Thank you.




Meetings of all types, whether for teams, task forces, or committees operate on two dimensions.


The first dimension is the TASK dimension. The task dimension focuses on "what" is achieved. It centers on using accurate information to reach a correct decision. It is concerned with the logical output, or product, of the meeting. Task-oriented participants ask: "Did we achieve our objectives?"


The second dimension is the GROUP PROCESS dimension. We'll refer to this simply as "PROCESS." The process dimension focuses on "how" members of the group work together to get the meeting objective accomplished. It centers on the methods the group employs to solicit information from members, discuss it, and maintain good working relationships in the process. Process-oriented participants ask: "Did we work well together?"


A group may function well on one dimension, but not another. Meeting productivity results from a group working well on both dimensions.


A group concerned only with its task can achieve results, but leave many hurt feelings behind. A sound business decision may be made, but it may lack support from those who participated. One meeting may be a "success," but future meetings may not. The group puts itself at risk because people do not want to belong to it.


A group concerned only with its process of working together may feel very friendly with each other, but get little done. Feelings are preserved at the expense of getting to the real facts and making a sound business decision. The group puts its continued existence at risk because it is not productive.


A successful solution requires the best in terms of both task "correctness" and member "buy in." Compromises which reduce either reduce the overall probability the solution will succeed.


It's no surprise, that managing meetings for effective results is tricky business. Everyone present at the meeting has an influence on what happens -- whether they say anything or not! One person can sabotage a meeting, but it takes everyone to make it succeed. Good leadership helps create the conditions for success, but good participation is required from everyone before success happens.





Meetings are called to achieve many different purposes. A meeting may have only one purpose, or it may cover many items -- each with a different purpose. It helps to know the purpose for each agenda item. Different types of items are handled in different ways. When a type "A" item is handled like a type "B" item, the result can be trouble. Let's see why.


First, we'll identify the major types of items most groups handle:

  • Information passing
  • Information gathering
  • Planning and organizing
  • Problem solving
  • Decision making

Information passing

Information passing items are ones where the leader, or an invited guest, gives information to the group. The purpose is to explain and clarify information the group needs to know. The role of group members is to be sure they understand by asking questions and taking notes if necessary.


Information gathering

Information gathering items are ones where the leader, or an invited guest, is seeking information from the group. The purpose is to understand facts and/or feelings the group has so that whoever is making a decision can do so with a better picture of what is involved. The role of group members is to provide information in a courteous fashion and to suggest other useful sources of information.


Planning and organizing

Planning and organizing items are ones where group members decide a course of action they will use to get something done. The group may be given just the result and be free to determine the plans to get there. In other cases, the group is also given instructions on methods to use to accomplish the result.


Planning and organizing items usually involve selecting ways to do things, setting a timetable, assigning responsibilities, and making certain who will communicate with whom as things progress. The role of the group is to complete a workable plan of action and make sure the right people with the right skills are assigned to it. They must also see that it is properly tracked and that key people are kept informed.


Problem solving

Problem solving items present the group with a situation where a problem exists and the cause is not known. The group's task is to determine the most likely cause of the problem. The group may determine the cause and stop, or it may continue into the decision making mode (described next). The role of the group is to define the problem -- what it is/is not, when it occurs, where it occurs, who is affected or involved. The group also identifies possible causes and narrows these to the one or two most probable causes. The group collects data to help it and/or calls in outside resources to assist. Problem solving may take more than one meeting to complete.


Decision making

Decision making items require the group to:

a) set a goal, or

b) determine a course of action, or

c) to select from several alternatives already available.

The group's task is to make a clear choice and establish a firm commitment to carry out the decision. The role of the group is to assemble necessary information, generate workable alternatives, logically evaluate the merits of each, and to select the one which makes the best contribution to the organization as a whole. Decision making often follows problem solving as the group decides what action will best solve a problem.


When groups participate in decision making, they assume the responsibility to make a sound business decision, acting not in their individual self interests, but for the good of the organization. They also accept the accountability to answer for their choice and to accept the consequences it brings. Groups who do not accept responsibility and accountability cannot participate in decision making.


What happens when groups get mixed up and try to handle one type of item with the approach for another type of item? Frustration! One of the most common mix ups is to use a decision making approach on information passing or gathering items. The group does not have permission or expertise to resolve the issue and gets frustrated because it can't. Treating the issue properly saves time and reduces frustration. Groups must realize they do not decide the limits of their involvement -- that is set outside the group.


When planning your next meeting, try these techniques by posting the agenda on a flip chart and writing beside each item the type of item it is (e.g., information gathering). Explain the various types of items and the role of the group for each one. Ask the group for feedback at the end of the meeting about the helpfulness of this approach.




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