Meetings are critical to getting things done within Academia. It's where decisions and actions require the participation of many people. As we all discovered during the pandemic, meetings were so important that they continued, albeit in a different format and often with Zoom. Needless to say, meetings are here to stay. While academics understand the necessity for meetings and even enjoy seeing colleagues, many don't like meetings because they are often poorly run and not an efficient use of time.
You have probably attended more than your share of meetings as an academic. So, reflect on the last few meetings you attended or conducted. Did you feel it was a productive use of your time? What worked and what didn't? Were goals accomplished?
As you move up the academic ladder, you will be responsible for running meetings for your lab, faculty, promotion and tenure, and further meetings that you can't even imagine.
To get the most out of your meetings, look at some common mistakes I have witnessed (and made) when I was a young academic.
Mistake # 1 - Lack of communication
Before the meeting, have you let everyone know the date, time, and format of the meeting with plenty of advance notice? While the date and time are self-explanatory, since the pandemic, it is essential to indicate in what form the meeting will be; will it be in-person or in a video format (e.g., zoom)? An easy way to ensure attendance, in addition to the standard email notice, is to utilize one of the calendar programs that allow you to transmit the details directly in an invitation on the attendees' calendar.
Mistake # 2 - No agenda
Unfortunately, too many meetings are conducted with no agenda, so the meeting becomes a merry-go-round conversation. No agenda means no organization. Take the time to put together an agenda and send it or give it to the attendees. An agenda signals that you are organized and ready to accomplish the tasks. Make an agenda for every meeting you run – even your lab and graduate student meetings!
Mistake # 3 - Not moderating the conversation
Running a meeting is always an exercise in moderation. As the organizer and conductor of the meeting, you must be sensitive to the ebb and flow of the conversation. You will inevitably have people that will talk too much and try to dominate the conversation, and you will have people that will remain silent. Remember that one of your roles is to listen and moderate so everyone has time to offer their opinion.
Mistake # 4 - Letting someone dominate the conversation
Some attendees think they have all the answers and solutions. Unfortunately, these people tend to speak incessantly, and while they sometimes have good information, more often than not, they just want to talk. As the moderator of the meeting, you cannot let someone dominate the conversation. Therefore, as you work to curtail discussion from certain individuals, you must develop methods that gently break the 'incessant speaking' cycle. To handle this situation, try saying, "Thank you for your comment. Who else has comments on this topic?" I've repeatedly used this phrase to curtail incessant speaking, and it works!
Mistake # 5 - Looping
Looping is a syndrome that often happens in meetings when the points are repeated. The first time this happens, it is critical that you stop the looping so the conversation can continue with others' input. A simple phrase such as "That point has been made previously, and while important, let's get other angles on the issue" can stop the looping and increase constructive conversation.
Mistake # 6 - Not encouraging input from junior faculty
A risk with many meetings is that junior faculty may not feel comfortable contributing. This discomfort often happens when junior or new faculty are involved in a meeting with senior faculty. As such, the junior faculty can not make their viewpoints known.
If you have attendees that sit quietly, it is a good practice to directly ask them if they have thoughts on the topic. You'll be surprised how a simple invitation to speak will help people open up and contribute.
Mistake # 7 - Not delegating
As the moderator of the meeting, you may be tempted to take on all the tasks and responsibilities of the meeting. Indeed, there may be a few times when you may have to do everything; however, if you get in the habit of delegating the tasks, this will help the attendees take ownership of the meeting outcomes and prevent you from becoming overloaded and overworked.
No one can escape going to meetings or conducting them; however, with some effort and a plan to make your meetings productive and efficient, your academic life can get a little bit easier. Try a few of these tips at your next meeting, and let us know how things went. We'd love to hear from you and get your feedback.
Keep moving forward Cheers! Tim