In the Mind’s Eye Society, every primary office tends to have assistants, and, they tend to have peers and cohorts who they need to communicate with. In fact, communication is the key to the effectiveness of every office. Regular meetings help guarantee good communication in person and help build trust and teamwork. The purpose of this brief module is to discuss planning and conducting these meetings and how to ensure that you and your team get the maximum benefit from them.
You may ask, why bother to plan the meeting? Careful planning allows you to be effective and productive in a short amount of time, which will encourage attendance and add value instead of adding a chore. Keep it quick, effective, and enjoyable, and your staff will be more likely to attend. Get everyone there, start on time, take care of business, and then let those who want to hang out and chat do that while still letting the others who need to get going do that.
Prepare for the meeting ahead of time. Much of the “fact” portion of the meeting (that is “What’s going on?” as opposed to “What would we like to do about it?”) can be addressed in an email before the meeting, keeping the meeting shorter. If everyone has the facts before the meeting, then the meeting can focus on discussion- but that requires that everyone have read the email before the meeting. Getting your staff into the habit of keeping up on their emails will help keep the meetings shorter and more productive, which encourages people to attend.
Meetings should have a purpose and an outcome. Simply informing one another isn’t enough. Communicate actions, tasks, and commitments, and encourage staff to ask for help when they need it. Set due dates, and be specific about who is expected to do what.
Have an agenda and stick to it, including a set time. A “standard” agenda will include updates from each officer, updates and directions given to the officers, and discussion of any changes in staff. The agenda should include a detailed timeline; this timeline also helps people prepare, because they know what will be discussed, and can have their notes on those things with them at the meeting. Below are two short examples of an agenda:
Domain Storyteller Meeting Minutes
Date: Saturday, July 5th, 2014
Start Time: 5:00 PM
- 5:00 – 5:10: Opening remarks from DST, introduce new aDST: Web Presence
- 5:10 – 5:20: Accord update, introduce new aVST
- 5:20 – 5:30: Sabbat update
- 5:30 – 5:40: Cam/Anarch update, plot contest ideas
- 5:40 – 5:50: Garou update, introduce newly elected VST
- 5:50 – 6:00: NW Garou Campout planning
- 6:00 – 6:20: Topic – identifying problem player types
- 6:20 – 6:30: Wrap Up, propose new agenda items
Domain Coordinator Meeting
Date: Friday, July 11th, 2014
Start Time: 6:00 PM @ Round Table Pizza
- 5:00 – 5:10: Opening remarks from DC; Website updates
- 5:10 – 5:20: ADC: Site Management – new game site schedule
- 5:20 – 5:30: Site Fee options and alternate funding proposal
- 5:30 – 5:40: Charity updates
- 5:40 – 5:50: ADC: Arbitration (Letter of Counseling review)
- 5:50 – 6:00: Wrap Up, propose new agenda items
Try to schedule small blocks, and expect to address a few key topics or issues only. Staying focused can be difficult when there are too many things to cover – instead, if all of the topics that need discussed cannot be covered in the blocks you have created, consider scheduling a second meeting instead. It is often difficult to stay on task otherwise. It also helps for staff with limited time and keeps the meeting positive and productive.
Don’t follow tangents from the agenda. “Tabling” an issue, or “parking” an idea means writing it down and coming back to it. Focus first on clearing through the agenda, and only then, if time permits will you come back around to the side issues. That ensures that everyone gets the basics, and can go into other details as time permits, and it encourages that all staff remain on task.
Ask each attendee to not text, cross-talk with others, and so on during the meeting. The meeting will be over much faster, and everyone will hear what’s going on without it having to be repeated. If a conversation doesn’t involve the whole group, then write it down, and take it up with the right people after the main part of the meeting.
Ensure that your staff knows the rules and that they follow them. Encourage feedback after meetings, and remind everyone that, as a team, everyone’s time is valuable and no one person should want to dominate the meeting. It can come across as curt to say “Let’s talk about that later” if those involved don’t expect that, but it can be more damaging to productivity if staff feel that they may go unheard do to an agenda that is never adhered to. Ensuring that everyone is on the same page will minimize hurt feelings.
Location can be as important as the agenda. Hanging around after a meeting and chatting is great for team building, but it is best to leave this as unofficial time AFTER meetings are completed. Having your meetings somewhere with food and drink, such as a restaurant or someone’s home, allows those who want to stay and hang out to do that, while others who only have time for the meeting itself can attend and then leave after the meeting. If you must hold the meeting prior to another MES event (such as game night), ensure that you have left adequate time for people to change gears, and try very hard not to force your officers to spend their entire day (or just what SEEMS like their entire day) in MES activities.
Assign a note-taker: Simple, but crucial. Ensure that a summary of the meeting is sent out or given out to all those who attended the meeting or who should have attended the meeting but were absent for whatever reason.
Limit absences. One of the most disruptive situations is the simple loss of an agenda item due to absentees. If a staff member cannot attend, request a proxy or assistant to cover their agenda items and communicate to everyone in attendance as early as possible. People, especially volunteers, have a lot of other time commitments in their lives. Ask each person to commit to the actions expected of them, and provide clear milestones and a clear objective to that commitment. This not only helps ensure that each person understands what is expected of them, it also encourages people to state if they can do what’s expected – this agreement helps motivate them to do the task, and do it on time.
Limit “guests” and ensure they have a purpose. Guests to these meetings should have a specific purpose for their attendance, and should never be there ‘just to observe’. It is often very difficult not to be distractive by even the quietest and most polite guests, and they will have just as difficult a time remaining outside of the conversations. In addition, these meetings may include sensitive information (plot elements, disciplinary concerns, etc.) and it is important to maintain office professionalism and discretion.
Use solid information. Do not encourage or tolerate rumor. If an item needs investigation, assign staff to the task and table the discussion until facts are available. This prevents creating issues that do not actually exist.
Keep criticism constructive, and limit open criticism. The common saying is to “Praise in public, criticize in private”; however, constructive criticism, if delivered properly, can provide sympathy and education opportunities for staff. Keep criticism short and to the point, and such discussion should never be a surprise. Inform the staff who may be receiving this constructive criticism in advance so that they are not embarrassed or unnecessarily placed in the spotlight. If the person is uncomfortable with public discussion of the issue, it may be best to detail only that the issue was identified and addressed without going in to detail. Voice concerns respectfully. Conversely, if you receive criticism, remember that it’s a suggestion for improvement, not an attack. Take it in the spirit of advice from a friend who’s genuinely trying to help.
Don’t use group pressure to force a bad idea: It can be very easy in a social group to push for an answer, and people want to get along, so they may agree when they might not want to agree. Keeping criticism constructive (see above) is reinforced when every concern is addressed on its merits, rather than by social pressure to ignore a problem.
Conclusion: The key to successful meetings lie in planning and efficiency – the goal is communication that is on task and on point, and creating an open road for teamwork. No single plan works for every place and every group of people. These are guidelines, not rules carved in stone. Try them out – they have a history of working well across many groups – but be willing to adjust them to your group so that the meeting works as well as possible for you.