How School Heads Can Improve Meeting Efficiency

Vol. 15 No. 5

head eletter vol15 no5 meetingeffic

Most School Heads attend or lead four to five meetings every week. Meetings take valuable time and should be optimized for maximum efficiency to best serve your needs as well as those of your faculty, staff, administration, and ultimately, students.

Every meeting should tie into your mission, driving actionable outcomes that move your school forward. You should be able to answer these questions after each meeting.

  • Is the outcome of this meeting proportionate to the time we spent?
  • Did this meeting help us build on our values?
  • Did we establish a return on investment for this meeting? Do we know how to measure it?
  • Did attendees leave with more knowledge than they had before we started? Do your employees have the tools they need to be immediately actionable?

We’ve outlined steps to take before, during, and after every meeting to ensure you can answer these questions and spur change.

A Focused Agenda Is Critical

A meeting is only as successful as its preparation.

A good rule of thumb is that you should spend two minutes preparing for every minute of your meeting. So a one-hour meeting requires two hours of preparation. This can range from setting the agenda and gathering materials to selecting the meeting space and inviting the appropriate attendees.

Process drives proactive meetings, enabling your team to handle current events, anticipate future ones, and take action. Creating an agenda is the first step for every meeting.

Many schools make the mistake of using a standard agenda—or no agenda at all—for each meeting. Every meeting shouldn't cover the same topics—this means the agenda isn’t tailored to the day’s specific needs.

Each meeting agenda should contain relevant topics and time limits. If, at the end of each time limit, your team decides you need to discuss further at your next meeting, that’s perfectly acceptable. But giving topics this type of structure ensures all matters at hand are covered thoroughly, rather than spending most of the meeting on the first topic.

We recommend that the first item on each agenda be 5–10 minutes of reflection. Ask your team to discuss:

  • What was achieved since the last meeting
  • Did we accomplish what we set out to do?
  • Do we need to revisit that topic again?

We then recommend spending 60% of each meeting on a single topic—what we call “the difference-maker.” The difference-maker should change the course of how you approach a certain topic and spur a difference in the near-term, whether that’s in a child’s life, how your team operates, or how you approach a certain topic.

When closing the meeting, build 5–10 minutes into the agenda for celebration—positive reinforcement of what your team has achieved and what you will continue to do in the future.

Once your agenda is set, check your attendee list to ensure it makes sense. Does your entire K–12 faculty need to attend if you plan to cover high school issues? Decide if participation is mandatory or if all faculty and staff members are invited to attend, but only certain individuals need to be there.

Define the Decision-Making Process

It’s imperative to define the decision-making process you intend to use before a meeting begins.

  • Unilateral—One person decides and communicates that choice to the group.
  • Informed unilateral—One person gathers information from others individually, but ultimately makes the final decision.
  • Conversational unilateral—One person shares the problem and gathers insights from others individually, but ultimately makes the final decision.
  • Collaborative unilateral—One person shares the problem with the group collectively for input and suggestions, but ultimately makes the final decision.
  • Recommended unilateral—One person shares the problem with the group, asks them to come up with recommended solutions, and makes the final decision with reference to their recommendations.
  • Group unilateral—One person shares the problem with the group and authorizes the group to decide within dictated constraints.
  • Mutual decision—One person shares the problem with the group and members decide the outcome as equals with no constraints.
  • Group—One person delegates the decision to the group and accepts its solution.

Be intentional about making decisions for the topics to be discussed and communicate that to your attendees as well.

With the agenda, participant list, and decision-making process confirmed, empower your attendees by sending the complete agenda out 24–48 hours before every meeting. Besides what you intend to cover, provide specific instructions for each attendee on how to prepare, including any materials to bring. If attendees are armed with knowledge of the topics to be covered and the information they need, meetings will result in more fruitful, data-driven conversations.

Finally, it’s also important that the meeting setting makes sense for your needs. Consider the time of day, food and drink provided, and even elements like lighting and comfort. These details may seem small, but can make a big difference in the mood of your meeting.

Always Be Prompt

When it comes time to start the meeting, begin and end on time. Often we hear that meetings begin when all attendees arrive, pushing the start by 10–15 minutes each time. Respect your presenters and attendees by establishing that meetings start and end on time. Also, enforce time limits outlined on the agenda.

Define the Action Plan

Select one person before the meeting to take the minutes and send them out no later than 24 hours after the meeting. Ideally, this person isn’t heavily involved in the discussion and can take precise and action-oriented notes. Minutes shouldn’t be a narrative of whom said what, but answer the following questions for each topic.

  • What did we decide to do?
  • What questions arose?
  • What are our next steps?
  • Who is accountable for delivering?
  • What’s the timeline for action?
  • How do we measure success?

The answers to the last three questions are especially important. Often, great conversation and action items come out of meetings. But, without accountability, change won’t take place.

Increasing the efficiency of every school meeting gives invaluable time back to you, your faculty and staff, and your administration to concentrate on what matters most—your students.

Additional ISM Resources:
The Source for Trustees Vol. 14 No. 8 How to Write Great Action Minutes
The Source for Trustees Vol. 11 No. 7 Ten Essential Rules for Productive Meetings
The Source for School Heads Vol. 13 No. 6 Leading the Leaders

Additional Resources for ISM Members:
I&P Vol. 37 No. 14 Action-Oriented Agendas for Successful Board Meetings

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