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  • Pat Libby

6 Simple Steps to Productive Meetings

Updated: Jun 27

The strategy work I do occasionally leads me to poke around inside nonprofit operations. As part of a recent reorg, I sat in on a series of committee meetings where board and staff tried on newly defined roles in clarified “lanes” of responsibility. Later I did a little coaching on effective meeting practices. That, my friends, inspired me to write this blog.


To quote my husband, “There are two types of meetings…good and bad.” I think many of us have experienced the bad but that doesn’t mean we know how to make them good.  


Whether online or in-person, orchestrating a productive meeting should be straightforward. Especially if you follow this framework:

 1. Before you begin a meeting, make sure it has a purpose!


Way too many meetings are centered on information sharing. While “show and tell” was a highlight of first grade, there is no reason to conduct a meeting that mimics Miss Jean’s classroom. Meetings should be focused on making decisions


Within the board-staff context, whoever is staffing the committee and its chair should agree on the agenda ahead of the meeting. This check-in clarifies what actions need to be taken and what decisions need to be made. It also acts as a reminder to give participants the information they’ll need to take those actions/make those decisions. Ask yourself “What do we want to accomplish?”


If it’s a staff-only meeting the same rules apply. What is the purpose? If information sharing is the purpose what actions or decisions are the staff going to make/do with the information?  


2. Establish a culture where meetings start on time and end on time. 


Carefully thinking through the agenda in advance should give you a good idea of how much time you’ll need to take action/make decisions.


You can establish a culture where meetings start on time and end on time by...see number three below.


3. Put the MOST important items at the top of the agenda.

That way, people show up when they should and are focused on the trickiest decisions upfront. If you want 15 minutes to socialize, build that into the agenda but stick it at the end. Better yet, schedule a time to share a meal and chat about life.


4. As you go through the agenda take notes about the key issues that are discussed, the decisions that are made, and the next steps


If there is a back-and-forth discussion about an issue, the notes should list the major pros and cons noted. The ultimate decisions that are made or the votes taken should of course be recorded.


At the conclusion of the meeting, the next steps should be outlined including who is responsible for following up on which items.


5. Repeat what has been decided as decisions get made throughout the meeting.

Let’s face it, since the advent of Covid, our attention spans have evaporated into thin air. This is true especially if we are meeting online where our attention can easily wander to someone’s bizarre background screen or our own weird expression.  

Simply repeating what has been decided keeps everyone on track. “OK, so everyone agrees that we’re going to explore developing a new program in collaboration with XYZ?” That ensures that the group is fully on board.


6. Follow-up on the next steps


Refer to your meeting minutes and touch base with people to make sure that tasks are on track. Then go back to step 1 and start all over. 


Several years ago I wrote a blog called How to Break the Vicious Cycle of Stupid Meetings and created a download to accompany it. This blog expands on those ideas but you might want to check it out for additional hints.




Pat Libby is a change management consultant working principally with nonprofit corporations. She is author of The Empowered Citizens Guide: 10 Steps to Passing a Law that Matters to You, Oxford University Press, The Lobbying Strategy Handbook, second edition, Oxford University Press, and Cases in Nonprofit Management, SAGE. She has served as an academic, senior executive, board member, and consultant to innumerable nonprofit organizations and foundations for more than three decades.

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