Every time I speak at an event, I know at least one person will come up afterward looking a bit panicked. I talk with audiences about what it takes to develop a system that ensures meetings work well across an organization, and as I'm sure you can appreciate, that's not something you pull off in five simple steps.
Meeting success directly impacts business success, and most leaders know they need to take action. But when they start to consider the work involved, the panic starts.
Who has time to take on yet another improvement initiative? Most leaders are far too busy running from one meeting to the next to even begin thinking about how they could make those meetings more valuable. Are you stuck in a chicken-and-egg doom loop like this, spinning your wheels in ineffective meetings because you don't have time to step back and fix them? If so, here's a tip.
Stop trying to do it all yourself.
By definition, a meeting involves other adults who are also responsible for making that time effective. Many leaders walk into meetings thinking they have to control the agenda, take all the notes, and create a good experience for the team, while at the same time working to keep everything efficient, productive, and on target.
You don't. The best teams divide the meeting work into distinct roles, then take turns filling each role. Here are eight meeting roles your team members can take on.
The facilitator manages the meeting process. This person works with the team before the meeting to create the agenda. During the meeting, they guide the group through the discussion, ensure everyone participates, and keep the discussion productive.
The note taker records key decisions, insights, action items, and other results. They'll make sure these notes get published afterward, too.
The timekeeper ensures all time limits are respected, including time for discussing specific topics and for ending on schedule.
This person watches the tone of the conversation and speaks up when things get off track. For example, they might (politely) interrupt to make sure someone who hasn't spoken gets a turn, or they might interject when they can see the group is avoiding a conversation they need to have.
I learned about the Vibes Watcher role from a team working on hard social issues. By giving one person explicit permission to notice sensitive interpersonal dynamics, they made it acceptable and safe to bring those topics into the conversation.
This one is often assumed, but not at Intel and those who have learned from their example. The decision maker is responsible for confirming and stating the decision so it can be documented before the meeting ends.
This person keeps track of all the promises made during the meeting as a list of action items or tasks.
I learned this one from Zingerman's, a successful community of food-based businesses in Michigan, where they call this role the "Monkey Minder." If you want to make sure your meetings result in action after the meeting, having someone focused explicitly on documenting those actions helps a lot.
VOC (Voice of the Customer)
Throughout the discussion, the VOC asks themselves "What would our customers think about this? How does what I'm hearing serve our customers' interests?" The VOC then represents the customers' interests in the meeting.
I learned about this role from a tech company working to manage a complex product line. They found that adding this role to their meetings helped them stay focused on providing value to customers, which gets harder when you have to juggle maintenance, compliance, and shareholder interests too.
The enforcer calls out any violations of the meeting rules. For an enforcer to do their job, the group must agree to meeting rules in the first place, so it's a double win.
I learned about the enforcer role from a team in a large financial organization that was just getting started with their meeting improvement program. Assigning an enforcer helped them implement new meeting agreements because someone was now explicitly watching to make sure they didn't just slip back into old habits.
Overall, there's no need to panic. Using meeting roles reduces the burden on team leaders by making the whole team jointly responsible for meeting success.