A Quick Guide to Effective Meetings

Just about every client I have ever had complains about the amount of time their organization devotes to meetings. Everyone wishes effective meetings were part of their daily work culture. It seems a universal gripe that organizations spend too much time in meetings. I even have a client who began a series of meetings about meetings!  And while it is easy to eye-roll this, I actually applaud this organization for the proactive step they took to ensure that time spent in meetings was productive time.

Why Don’t We Have Effective Meetings?

People don’t run effective meetings because they simply don’t know how.  We know enough to suspect when a meeting might be necessary but it is more challenging to know how to structure a meeting for a specific need, know who needs to be around the table and keep discussion moving in a productive direction.

How To Have Effective Meetings

The first step toward having effective meetings is be mindful about them.  Simply scheduling a meeting doesn’t ensure you will accomplish what you need to accomplish.  What is the objective.  Is a meeting the best way to accomplish this?

  • If a meeting is the best way to accomplish this, determine who needs to be there to ensure that this objective is met.
  • Ask participants for agenda items about a week before the meeting
  • Finally, draw up a draft agenda and circulate it.  Be sure to share the objective and any additional reading material to participants in advance of the meeting.

Effective Meetings Come in Many Forms

Choose the most effective format for your meeting.  Maybe you need a brief check in so remaining standing is the best format.  Perhaps you need a traditional hour-long sit-down at a conference table. Maybe you need to schedule a half-day or full-day retreat to accomplish what you need to do.  Or perhaps it makes sense to take a 45 minute or hour long walk to run the most effective meeting.

Inc. recently published an article advocating for more variety in the length of time we schedule meetings for. Just because your calendar software defaults at an hour doesn’t mean every meeting has to be that length.  Consider the following guidelines:

  • 10-15 minutes for brief check-ins and updates.
  • 15-30 minutes for one-on-one meetings with colleagues and reports.
  • 50 minutes for standard meetings addressing multiple issues or topics.
  • 90 minutes for problem solving sessions like brainstorming.

Running Effective Meetings

Meetings are most effective when you stick to the agenda.  It’s advisable to include a rough time estimate for each agenda item to stay on track. If someone brings up something off topic, use a “parking lot” to record the idea.  A parking lot is simply a place to record ideas that are important but not up for discussion at that particular meeting.  People who run effective meetings don’t take meeting time to discuss items off topic.

Effective meetings also have someone taking notes. Usually note-taker is not the facilitator.  The notes should be distributed to participants after the meeting with a list of follow up activities, due dates and people who are responsible for follow up. This keeps the work moving forward.

How To Enable Effective Meetings

There is a great Ted talk on creating a culture of effective meetings, in which the speaker talks about MAS or Meeting Acceptance Syndrome–this is the condition that makes us mindlessly accept a meeting without knowing what will be discussed and if we are an appropriate addition to the discussion.  If someone invites you to a meeting but has not shared an objective or agenda, question them about the purpose of the meeting. We can all take back our time from ineffective meetings by modeling and encourage effective meeting behavior for our colleagues.

Effective meetings are within our power! What will you do today to ensure meetings are more effective?

Library Leadership

Library leadership is something I approach passionately.  Why is library leadership important?  It is the path to truly excellent library service. Without strong leadership libraries can’t succeed.  In order for libraries to succeed, they need effective leaders and in order for leaders to be effective they need to be prepared.

Library Leadership: Not Just at the Top

What are leaders?  Leaders are influencers. Leaders innovate and develop.  Leaders keep the long range perspective in mind.  They exhibit new ideas and challenge the status quo. Leaders focus on and develop people. Leaders continually question.  And leaders aren’t just the people at the top of an organization.  Committee chairs, working group leaders and well trusted colleagues all hold important leadership roles in an organization.

Preparing for Library Leadership

So, if a librarian is interested in a leadership role how do they prepare?  If a librarian finds themselves in a leadership role, how do they get up to speed? Certain concepts come up again and again in the literature related to leadership skills.  They are:

  • Emotional Intelligence
  • Understanding the Bigger Picture
  • Professional Comportment
  • Change Facilitation
  • Decision-Making
  • Communication Skills
  • Innovation

My first piece of advice to anyone moving into library leadership is to get familiar with these notions.  But don’t just take my word for it, research what others say about essential skills for library leaders and familiarize yourself with the concepts they list.

First Steps for improving Library Leadership Skills

Here are 10 easy-to-implement actions for improving your leadership skills.  They are in no particular order and are applicable to people in any field, not just library leadership:

  1. Find a mentor (formal or informal).
  2. Form a “Community of Practice” or “Mastermind Group” of other developing leaders to share your experiences and learn from one another.
  3. Create a daily reading list (including the campus or local newspaper, Chronicle of Higher Education or other industry publication, blogs, twitter, etc.). Map out time on your schedule to accomplish this.
  4. Conduct a skills assessment–where do you most need to grow?
  5. Apply to a leadership development program (ALA’s Emerging Leaders, Harvard’s Leadership Institute, Educause/CLIR Leading Change Institute, etc.).
  6. Learn your organization’s mission(s), vision(s) and values.
  7. Write a personal mission, vision and values statement.
  8. Schedule “thinking time” and “reading time” on your calendar.  You may not always honor it but you will honor it more often than if you don’t schedule it!
  9. Adopt an innovator’s approach to your work.
  10. Look for inspiration everywhere.

Are you transitioning to library leadership?  I would love to hear about your triumphs and challenges.  Have you learned your own leadership lessons?  Share your wisdom!

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Workplace Expectations for Today’s Library

Ever feel like you walked into work one day and no longer knew the workplace expectations?  Sure, you do your best to be great at your job, but what helps a librarian be a leader in today’s job market?

Workplace Expectation #1:  Change

When you think about libraries over the past 20, 10, 5 or even 2 years, a tremendous amount has changed.  The same is true for the way we work: workplace expectations have changed.

People approach change differently.  Some people are innovators or early adopters at the vanguard of change. Others are laggards who resist change.  Most of us fall in the middle.  Change can be stressful and scary for some.

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Workplace Expecations: Understand that people approach change differently.

Today’s workforce is expected to understand change.  We all need to think about change and how it effects us.  We need to learn about the change process and how it might effect our colleagues.  One model of the change process that I find particularly useful is the Transtheoretical Model, which lays out several stages of change.

Workplace Expectation #2:  Collaboration

Today’s workplace is full of experts and true innovation occurs across functional lines. This means that an essential workplace expectation is collaboration–working together with people who have different expertise.  This means that you have to know your stuff.  You may be the only person on a given project who knows what you know.  It also means you have to know how to communicate and work well with others.

Workplace Expectation #3:  Communication

Because of the high degree of collaboration in today’s workplace we are all expected to communicate well.  This extends to nonverbal communication and active listening.  It also extends to communicating with people of different genders, backgrounds and generations.  Because of the fast pace of work output it also means we need to master several different communication modes–email, IM, report writing, telephone etiquette, presentations, meetings–and stop and think before we decide which is the best choice.  Once we have made communication choices we have to carefully craft and execute our communication.

Workplace Expectation #4:  Multidirectional management

We are expected to be able to manage ourselves, our colleagues and our bosses.  By manage I mean take responsibility.  We need to control ourselves, and enable ourselves and our colleagues to do our very best.  We need to continually inform our bosses of what they need to know and occasionally suggest what they should do next.  And we need to do this according to the “platinum rule.”  While the “golden rule” states, “do unto others as you would have others do unto you,” the “platinum rule” states, “do unto others as others would have you do unto them.”  This is where the essential skills of communication and emotional intelligence come in.

Workplace Expectation #5:  Emotional Intelligence

Mastering emotional intelligence will probably help you get further than any of the other workplace expectations I describe.  That is because it is comprised of self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy and social skills.  All of these elements help you to work effectively with colleagues.

Workplace Expectations:  Conclusion

The good news is that while some of these traits are hard-wired for some people, they are not impossible to learn.  With study and practice, all of these essential workplace expectations can be improved, even mastered.

I would love to hear your thoughts on workplace expectations and how you have worked on mastering them.

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