Picture of Sarah ForgieProf Sarah Forgie is a pediatric infectious disease physician at the Stollery Children’s Hospital and associate professor in the University of Alberta’s Department of Pediatrics

I asked a few colleagues, “You have a monthly meeting scheduled in ten minutes…how do you feel?”

“Dread…because I’m not really sure why I am there or what I am contributing.”

“Frustration…it feels like my time is being wasted.”

“Stressed…because I have all of this work to do but I can’t get to it because I have to go to a meeting…and then when I get back to my office there are 400 more emails waiting.”

“Annoyed, you are just getting on a roll and then you have to break for a meeting.”

Interestingly, I did not even specify which meeting – it seemed to be a universal feeling.

A colleague once told me that the true cost of attending a meeting (the opportunity cost) is the cost (time, other more productive work, or money) of what you have given up to attend. That can be substantial. But I think that a few small changes to meetings could reduce those opportunity costs (and reduce some of the dread, frustration, stress and annoyance). Here are my suggestions:

  1. Define the purpose. Why am I calling this meeting? Is it about an issue that requires consensus building, or is it a monthly standing meeting (and what are the terms of reference)? How can I ensure that I am respecting others’ time and that we are aware of the goals?
  2. Decide on the method. What is the best way to share (or gather) the information (i.e. is a meeting necessary)? If a meeting is being called to share information, sometimes an email instead of a face-to-face meeting may suffice. But if the purpose of the meeting is to gather information and input, face-to-face meetings using small focus groups or a large discussion group would be advantageous.
  3. Decide on facilitator vs. expert. Should I ask a facilitator to run my meeting? Having a facilitator prevents the meeting from turning into a lecture (i.e. he/she can curtail my talking) and promotes group interactions where those present can share their experiences.
  4. Create ground rules. Is this a safe learning/meeting environment? Ask the group to create ground rules about electronics, interrupting, and methods to achieve consensus to ensure respect and encourage participation.
  5. Create objectives and outcomes. What are the most important things to take away from this session? My next agenda should be written like a set of learning objectives and outcomes for a teaching session with specific topics linked to various individuals for a certain amount of time. Each one must be written in a practical way so that everyone present will know what they will learn about each item.
  6. Engage. How can I involve everyone? In addition to creating a safe environment and making the goals and agenda clear, in order to create relevance. I must ensure that the right stakeholders are around the table and that the information is presented in an engaging manner. Using photographs instead of words and reconfiguring reports to make them more easily understandable are good places to start.
  7. Evaluate. Meetings should conclude with a review of the goals and agenda-related assigned tasks, as well as timelines for completion and evaluation. And there must be time spent on reflection about how the meeting went. Did others participate and find it useful? Did I find it useful? What can I improve on? And finally, was it (dare I say) enjoyable?

Find a wealth of additional advice on how to conduct meetings here.