The 8 Steps to Running Productive Public Sector Meetings

Does the thought of attending your next public sector organisation meeting fill you with the excitement of possibility and anticipation?

Or does it leave you feeling less than inspired? 

After attending meetings, do you generally come out fired up with enthusiasm and motivated to do more? 

Or do you feel the need to lie down in a darkened room? 

While some public sector meetings are absolutely necessary, others could do with a more time-boxed strategy, with consideration to agendas, and thought as to who truly needs to attend. 

Meetings have taken over many a public sector professional’s life - you may find yourself in so many meetings that there’s hardly enough time left in the working day to get your job done.  

In fact, according to Harvard Business Review, executives spend an average of nearly 23 hours a week in meetings, up from less than 10 hours in the 1960s. 

But there are ways to make your meetings more time-effective, more efficient, relevant, and inspirational for those who attend them. 

So, if you struggle to have valuable and meaningful meetings with tangible outcomes, this post is for you. 

I’ll take you through the seven steps to achieving motivational meetings that will have everyone wanting to attend. 
 
1. Plan the Agenda 

Firstly, how do you plan your agenda?  

Often, agendas seem to be created on a first-come, first-served basis: everyone is invited to submit ideas for discussion, and then the director’s secretary lists them in the order they came in.  

Alternatively, you or another senior manager in your organisation may rejig the list to put operational ideas first, and then have a long list of other wide-ranging topics, and time allotted at the end for individuals to have their say.  

The problem with this sort of agenda is that it’s hard to manage from a time-allocation point of view (more on this later), but additionally, a meeting with varied agenda means a lot of people need to attend – but only some of the issues will be relevant to them. 

It’s much more efficient and productive to have one (or two to three max) related issues to discuss in one meeting. This keeps it short and manageable, allows only relevant personnel to attend and makes it easier to set targets and tasks. 
 
2. Allocate Time 

With studies indicating that we spend anywhere from 35%–55% of our time, and sometimes much more, in meetings, it’s time to think about what you need to meet about formally, and how long it should take.  

I would advise that you try to keep meeting time to around one to one-and-a-half hours maximum. Any longer than this and individuals are likely to lose concentration and start gazing out of the window – especially if the agenda is not relevant to them.  

Focus on decisions, not discussions, in the meeting by having all reading material distributed to participants in advance. An attached cover sheet is useful to explain why the documents need to be read before you meet (e.g. for info only, for discussion, or actionable decision).   

Basing your meetings around one particular topic of discussion helps time manage more efficiently as it allows you to focus on one thing, and you only need the essential people to attend rather than a wide-ranging meeting with many agenda items and half of your organisation in the room. 

So, for example, keep your finance discussions and your issues regarding clinical business on separate agendas (more on this later). 

Additionally, when you have more than one meeting in a day, it’s wise to add buffer time.  

So, for every 45–60 minutes you spend in a meeting, make sure to take 15 minutes or so to process, reflect, and prioritise. I find this helps clarify things in your mind from one meeting before you step into the next and helps avoid overload and workplace stress.  
 
3. Invite Only Essential Attendees 

How many people were at your last meeting?  

More importantly, how many were directly involved in the creation or fulfilment of deliverables from that meeting?  

Many studies, including this 2015 HBR research, have shown the benefits of meeting in smaller groups. Focus and responsibility are always more challenging when too many people are involved.  

Keeping it within a small group will enable you to achieve more coherent strategies and assign leadership on tasks – and avoid having a meeting with half the participants staring silently at their laptops for the duration. 

I'm sure their time could be better utilised elsewhere! 
 
4. Strategic v Operational 

If you’re finding that too little time is devoted to strategy, it’s worthwhile considering having separate meetings to address strategic and operational issues.  

According to an HBR report, as much as 80% of top management’s time is devoted to issues that account for less than 20% of an organisation’s long-term value.  

I’ve seen numerous organisations who spend enormous amounts of meeting-time debating the image for the company Christmas card but fail to agree on strategic plans for the organisation’s future. 

Focusing on the critical issues is essential but keep strategy and operations on separate agendas. Which leads us on to… 
 
5. Don’t Go Off Track 

How often do you find public sector meetings go off-piste with a rant about the IT department or someone’s gripe about the canteen lunch choices?  

Keep your meetings on track. If it looks like they are going off in a different direction but covering a vital issue, set up a meeting to discuss that matter on another occasion. 
 
6. Focus On Decisions, Rather Than Discussions 

Setting desirable outcomes and milestones is key to making your meetings count. Use your meetings to target decision-making rather than lengthy conversations about issues (see my earlier point about sending reading materials out in advance). 

Make sure you assign tasks to individuals before you break up the meeting: there’s nothing worse than a meeting where people return to their desks unsure as to what responsibilities may have been allocated to them.  

Everyone should leave with a clear idea of what needs to be done before you reconvene, and, importantly, who is doing it. 
 
7. Take It Into the Kitchen 

It’s a fact that we rely excessively on round-the-table meetings as the default form of interaction with other colleagues at work.  But what about other options? 

Maybe you don’t need a formal meeting to cover an issue. Would an informal gathering over coffee, a chat in the kitchen or a sandwich lunch together work just as well?  

Sometimes quick, informal meet-ups can have successful outcomes and improve individual engagement, without the need for a formal sit-down meeting in the boardroom. 
 
8. Be Inspired! 

Finally, however well planned your meeting is, it won’t achieve successful outcomes unless you engage your audience.  

So many meetings seem to focus on one person and a PowerPoint presentation. It’s easy for colleagues to lose concentration if they are on the receiving end of a monologue about investment plans. Keeping your attendees engaged and inspiring them with your ideas is critical to successful meeting outcomes.  

So, rather than letting your audience sit back whilst you talk, involve them. Feedback during a meeting is a great way to keep everyone talking and also serves to empower your team. You could even try interactive role-playing to help staff feel more involved in the outcome. 

By opening a forum for discussion or running an activity such as role playing to promote interaction you can keep colleagues on board.

And ending the meeting by setting smart objectives will focus minds and encourage the strategies to continue after you leave the meeting room. 
 
What Next? 

Nothing wastes more time than a public sector meeting that rambles around multiple topics, where the urgent takes precedence over the important, which concludes much later than anticipated, and where attendees come out feeling slightly dazed, frustrated and confused as to what happens next. 

If your meetings are not achieving ideal outcomes – that is, clear decisions on the way forward – it’s time to revisit how you manage them. 

The price of mismanaged executive time is high.  

Not just in terms of the frustration individuals suffer but the inescapable fact that delayed strategic decisions can lead to hastily agreed compromises, missed opportunities and reduced long-term planning strategy that can have a financial impact across your public sector organisation. 

So, keep them timely, focused, motivational and relevant: make your meetings count.  
 

Thanks 

Heather Clarke 


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Harris Burns are specialists in Executive Search and Senior Finance appointments within the Public Sector; with particular expertise in NHS, Housing and Charity Sectors.  

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