How many times have you been in a meeting, and it just fizzles out? Such as a remote one where people start to disappear and drop off the session? Or in-person when participants pack up and walk out?
It is unsatisfying as a participant to see your colleagues leave and borders on offensive to the meeting host. Yet, this happens because the meeting isn’t ending well (or at all.)
This is just one example of bad endings. Here’s another, the meeting after the meeting.
This is when the first meeting didn’t achieve its goal, so another must take place to make up for it. The second meeting might happen right after the first to confirm what was said, disagree, or vent about what happened. Sometimes, it happens months later because no one remembers what they were supposed to do at the initial one.
Bad endings are a contributor to unproductive meetings in the workplace. Yet, it is a problem easily fixed with some new strategies and practice.
Like we have discussed the past couple weeks. Great meetings follow a basic structure. The beginning is all about maximizing the first 10-15minutes of the meeting. This means starting on time (or within 3 minutes), having an explicit meeting purpose, and describing what participants are expected to do. Read Bold Beginnings to get the details.
The middle is where the discussion takes place, but the secret is being ready when it goes sideways. Such as having a plan when people aren’t speaking up, when one or two are dominating the discussion, or when disagreement breaks-out. To learn to how to handle those situations, read Meaningful Middles.
Maintaining the momentum set with a Bold Beginning and a Meaningful Middle will result in an Engaged Ending. In fact, if all the techniques introduced so far were put into place:
Start on time and state clear purpose
Explain what participants will do
Draw people into the discussion
Manage those who overshare
Prepare for and facilitate goal focused disagreement
Then, there is only one thing left to do, begin the ending.
What is the meeting end?
An “engaged ending” isn’t a description of the last seconds, another word for the conclusion, or simple moment in time. Rather, it is a dedicated time section on the agenda where specific actions take place.
Think about it this way, how frequently do you think about what you will do the last 5-10 minutes of the meeting and then dedicate time on the agenda to do it?
My hunch is not a lot, if at all. This is because no one is taught how to end a meeting.
Before any gathering takes place, the host must think through the last 10 minutes of a 60-minute meeting or the last 5 minutes of a 30-minute meeting. This means all discussion of meeting content needs to conclude by this point. Essentially, the goal must be achieved in 50 minutes or in 25 minutes, respectively.
Ending a meeting well can only happen if it is planned for when the agenda is created.
What to Do
The action taken to end a meeting well will vary based on context. For example, if it is an action-oriented meeting with a lot of tasks, ensuring those tasks are captured is key. But if it’s a meeting that involved a lengthy discussion to make a decision, it is wise to get feedback from the participants on the effectiveness of the decision-making process.
Any of the actions below can be of use for an Engaged Ending. Select those that fit the context and length of the meeting.
Recap of key messages, decisions, or problems solved. This includes the intended impact or outcomes that will result. Repeat the goal of the meeting and state how the group achieved that goal.
Request for participants to share their action items (in round-robin fashion) and when those action items will be complete. This helps instill accountability when people state their responsibilities out loud.
Inquiry for outstanding discussion points or deliverables and suggestions for when they will be addressed. Ask for someone to lead the next meeting, if necessary.
Quick evaluation of the process that took place, e.g. decision-making, problem-solving, debate, disagreement, etc. If it’s a virtual meeting, use Polling functions. The anonymity will yield quick results. If it’s in-person, ask for feedback but plan to follow up. You might send an electronic evaluation after or speak to folks individually.
Thank you to all participants for their attention, respectful engagement, humor, efficiency, teamwork, support, candor, courage to disagree, or anything the team did well to make the meeting a success. Recognize positive behavior so that people can easily replicate it.
End 3-5 minutes early to give people a small window to get to their next meeting on time.
If the beginning and middle of a meeting are appropriately planned and executed, the end comes naturally, provided there is time reserved to do so. The actions that take place during the ending depend on context, but the best practices include recaps, confirmation of goal achieved, and a little bit of gratitude.
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Until next time!
Amy Drader is a management consultant and credentialed coach with over 20 years’ experience in HR and operations. She knows first-hand the joys and challenges of leading people and is dedicated to helping managers and teams advance their performance. She is the owner of Growth Partners Consulting, a boutique leadership and team development consulting firm that provides customized training and coaching.
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