Assigning Roles for Meetings


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Have meetings felt unproductive and have not been building your confidence in the value they may have added? Was there insufficient time to consider all the options available or making the best decisions following an open discussion? Perhaps it is time to consider assigning roles to those who attend your meetings.

Productive Meetings

The reason why assigned roles work is that meeting participants are often not fully engaged in asking questions, stimulating discussions, summarizing agreements reached, critically review suggestions or ideas, or ensuring that everyone there has a chance to contribute. Having a specific role to play at a meeting helps participants to focus on helping the team fully explore options, evaluate the options, and make high-quality decisions following the discussion.

The roles are specific and defined and it would require specific individuals to act accordingly for the duration of the meeting. Roles vary from being the one to bring up a lot of questions about the issues on the agenda to being someone who plays devils advocate or being the critical one when it comes to suggestions tabled for consideration. Of course, all meeting participants continue to bring their own skills, opinions, and knowledge to the meeting and are expected to contribute those to the discussions too.

How to assign roles

Roles can be assigned before a meeting, the chairperson can ask meeting participants to volunteer for the various roles before the meeting starts or the chairperson can randomly assign roles at the start of the meeting (often done by means of handout out cards which explain the task of each role on a 2×4 inch card).

Task roles to assign

Initiator/Contributor

Contributes ideas and suggestions or proposes solutions and decisions. Proposes new ideas or reframes existing ideas in a different way.

Information Seeker

Asks for clarification related to comments – are they based on verified data? Asks for information or facts relevant to the problem. Suggests when more information may be needed before making decisions.

Opinion Seeker

Asks for clarification related to comments made by meeting participants.  Find out how people feel about ideas on the table.  Include those who have not yet been able to contribute an opinion during the discussion.

Critic

In a constructive manner, verbalizes ways in which a suggestion or idea could have unforeseen negative consequences for other (internal or external) stakeholders in the implementation of such suggestion/idea.

Process guard

Indicates decision-making errors and biases which may be skewing support towards a particular outcome. Points out departures from agreed-on agenda and discussion goals. Tries to bring the group back to the central issues and raises questions about the direction in which the group is heading

Summarizer

Summarizes what has taken place and what decisions have been made to date. Reminds the group of assumptions made along the way during discussions.

Note-taker and timekeeper

Keeps notes of decisions made, and actions agreed to. Reminds the group of an approaching break/end of the meeting.

Dysfunctional roles at meetings

Sometimes meetings are unproductive because one or more meeting participant is engaging in playing a dysfunctional role during the meeting which stifles discussion, shuts down conversations, and focuses the attention in unhelpful ways. Discussing these before the meeting starts could be another way to create awareness of unproductive meeting behaviors in order to avoid them. Sometimes it can be interesting to review a meeting in hindsight to identify if anyone engaged in any of these dysfunctional roles. This would be useful to help meeting participants develop self-awareness related to their meeting participant behaviors.

dysfunctional roles

It can be an taxing task to keep track of progress, keep an eye on the clock while also making sure that actions and decisions are captured while ensuring that discussions make optimal use of the skills and experience in the meeting room. Assigning task roles to meeting participants can give you a much-improved chance of having a productive meeting which ensures full engagement of all those present.

Planning Effective Meetings Template


One of the most frustrating elements of many managers’ calendars are meetings. If you ask people they mostly believe there are too many participants, that meetings take too long, and that some individuals talk too much and venture off-topic. And most people are unable to remember what was decided or which actions came out of the meeting. The tool I am sharing helps a chairperson to prepare for a meeting and it helps him or her communicate the specific overall objectives for the meeting and also for every agenda item.

Some of the meeting maladies mentioned above can be cured simply by creating and distributing an agenda to participants before having the meeting. This tool goes further though – it also helps to create clarity around each agenda item’s purpose in informing participants or driving decision-making to move a project or initiatives forward.

The template you can download above contains an example to illustrate its use. Just replace the agenda items shown with your own meeting agenda items and then complete each column as demonstrated to clarify who is responsible for each agenda item, the purpose of each item, and the allocated time and desired outcome for each of the agenda items.  Do share the objectives, time available and expected outcomes with those who are assigned to each agenda item – it helps him or her be prepared to guide the conversation and discussion accordingly.

Suggestions

  • Even with an agenda and a well-planned meeting there may be times when things need to change as it becomes clear that a critical issue requires to be solved right-away.  Give yourself the leeway to abandon the agenda for a particular meeting to deal with such a highly critical and important issue or set another meeting right after the planned meeting to address the issue.
  • Some successful chairpersons make use of meeting “agreements” or “ground rules” to further improve the quality of the meeting. Some have items such as “each speaker gets a maximum of 1 minute to make his or her point” and “we debate issues and we respect the opinions of others.”
  • To know if your meetings are getting better – get feedback from your meeting participants. Take a few minutes at the end of the meeting to ask what went well and what could be better in future – exactly how. Reviewing the feedback when you plan the next meeting can help you to be mindful of further improvements that can be included going forward.

I hope this tool helps you plan your next meeting and move closer to having productive meetings which helps you progress your project or initiative as you had hoped.