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Successful Meeting Tips from Executive Director, Lindsay O’Leary PE

Successful Meeting Tips from Executive Director, Lindsay O’Leary PE

The civil engineering industry is working overtime to meet the needs of our state’s ever-growing population and demand for resilient infrastructure. I understand we are all using the “B” word – Busy. Despite our society’s busyness culture, each of our amazing volunteers finds time to honor their commitment, and it’s impressive. Thank your family, and thank your employer for me, please. I know our volunteers can’t go above and beyond without a strong support system.

Back to the busyness… I’ll keep this short and focus on two key topics: an update on Texas Section operations and tips for planning for and executing successful meetings.

Texas Section Operations

In September, the Section installed a new Board of Direction, in conjunction with CECON 2019. Starting well before the change in command, I began working and continue to work with President Susan Roth PE on her 3MsMember Benefits, Membership Growth, and Mentoring Programs. Together, we tackle different components of Section operations. President Roth directs the work of the Board, focusing on governance and strategic direction, while I oversee the Section’s day-to-day operations and administration.

We are preparing for a winter meeting of the Executive Committee, ASCE’s Multi-Region Leadership Conference (send warm thoughts, or bring a heavy coat if you’ll be joining us – the event is in Detroit, MI in January), the ASCE Texas Student Symposium, and the ASCE Legislative Fly-In. In addition, the Section staff team is already working with our President Elect, Sean Merrell PE, to plan for Leadership Development Weekend 2020 next summer. As leadership and staff advance the Section’s strategic goals, they are focusing, in large part, on the Texas Civil Engineering Conference – CECON. Section leaders met in March 2019 to envision the future of the conference, and now it’s time to implement new ideas, refine a few components, and continue to provide members value through our flagship annual conference.

As programs and special projects continue to progress, Section leadership and staff are mindful of our 2019-2020 Operating Budget. The budget for this fiscal year is $548,500, balanced by leveraging interest earned from the Section’s investment account, or long-term savings, as a revenue source. We will continue to evaluate current programs and seek new opportunities which enable the Section to diversify its revenue stream and become less dependent upon investment account withdraws to balance future budgets. Opportunities for advertising, webinar revenue, and membership recruitment are big focuses this fiscal year.

Mike Sosa, Section Data Coordinator; Bailey Pattison, Section Communications Specialist; Susan Roth PE, 2019-2020 Section President; and Lindsay O’Leary PE, Section Executive Director enjoy the photo booth at CECON 2019

Leadership Lessons for Successful Meetings

As Executive Director, I have the unique opportunity to participate in numerous board and committee meetings. I also have the pleasure of attending meetings with agency leaders and legislators. Some meetings are face-to-face while others are virtual. I’m happy to share a few of tips to help you prepare for meetings, as a facilitator or an attendee. Mediocre meetings lead to more busyness and we can all use less of that. 

Successful meetings don’t start the moment a meeting convenes. Likewise, they don’t end upon meeting adjournment. Thoughtful planning and follow-up are both key components, in addition to fierce execution, of a successful meeting.

Planning

  • The Agenda. Makes the best use of everyone’s time. Drafting one forces the meeting facilitator to prepare and requires them to consider both the purpose and desired outcomes or goals. Additionally, reviewing an agenda allows invited attendees to prepare. 
    • Tip: Don’t hesitate to ask for an agenda if you’ve been invited to a meeting. You should understand why you are being invited so that you can decide whether to attend.
  • Meeting Style. Conference calls, face-to-face and virtual meetings can all be successful. Ask yourself or your team a few questions to determine the best meeting format: Where are invited attendees located? Are the invited attendees quiet and less likely to provide input over the phone? Will attendees need to review detailed graphics or data sets together? How long will the meeting last, and should a meal break be included?
    • Tip: If difficult, sensitive, or controversial subjects are on the agenda, a face-to-face meeting is the best approach.
  • Schedule. Provide as much advance notice as possible. Use polling tools to identify which times and days work best for invited attendees. Once you find a time and date that works, consider setting recurring meetings if applicable.
    • Tip: Nothing keeps a project on track like a regular team check-in, and it doesn’t have to take long.
  • Invitation List. Consider the purpose of the meeting and which invited attendees are critical to the desired outcomes or goals. Can subcontractors or subcommittees send one representative to attend, or does the entire project team need to meet? Can supervisors speak on behalf of their team, or is it important to receive information directly from everyone? Remember that everyone is busy, and invite only those who absolutely need to participate in meeting dialogue.
  • Prepare. Review the meeting agenda and be prepared to discuss any items under your purview. This helps ensure the meeting is efficient.

Execution

  • The Facilitator. Every meeting needs one. This person is responsible for keeping the meeting on-topic and on time. Start on time, and end on time, out of respect for all attendees. Call upon all attendees to provide input, especially those who may be timid about speaking up. Most importantly, thank all attendees for their time at the conclusion of the meeting – no matter how the meeting went.
    • Tip: If an attendee has had the floor for most of the time on a particular matter, don’t hesitate to say something like, “Sara, thank you for sharing your insight. In the interest of time, let’s table any further discussion on this topic until the end of the meeting to ensure we address all of today’s agenda items.
  • Minutes. At least one attendee should be responsible for recording minutes or notes, at the direction of the facilitator. They are helpful when following-up after a meeting and serve as a tool relay details to those unable to participate. Distribute these to all invited attendees within a reasonable time frame. They can keep a project on-track and delaying distribution can hurt productivity.
  • Action Items. Unless all necessary decisions were made during the meeting, it’s likely attendees will walk away with action items. Record them within the meeting minutes. Note who will do what and by when.
    • Tip: Don’t show up to a meeting without a means of taking notes. If you’ve been tasked with a responsibility, be sure to personally record the details.
  • Schedule the Next Meeting. Is another meeting needed? Discuss possible time frames with attendees before the meeting adjourns.

Follow-up

  • Make Time. Set aside time to address follow-up items. When scheduling a meeting or accepting an invitation, it is helpful to simultaneously set-aside time for follow-up actions that may result from that meeting. Set aside a few hours at least once per week to follow-up on action items or promised commitments made during meetings – perhaps a block of time on Thursday afternoons or Friday mornings will work best for you. For urgent meetings, setting aside time immediately following the meeting can be the best approach.
    • Tip: Be cautious about overbooking and scheduling back-to-back meetings. This can make it difficult to find time to follow-up.

If you have trouble keeping meetings on time, consider indicating time limits for various agenda items. Also, be realistic about how many agenda items will fit into the allotted meeting time. If you have any questions about leading or attending meetings, I invite you to reach out anytime. Send me an email at  [email protected] or give me a call at the Section office: (512) 472-8905.