Jeanne Guynn knows most people don’t practice parliamentary procedures while at a potluck. The Five Seasons Leadership Academy, a subgroup of Toastmasters in Cedar Rapids, meets on Friday nights to practice meeting procedures while sharing a meal.
“We practice making motions and amending them and sometimes we debate them,” Guynn said. “It’s super nerdy, but it’s fun. There’s a professional registered parliamentarian in the group who keeps us on track.”
As unusual as the gatherings sound, they came out of a real need to have better organized meetings. Toastmasters holds an annual business meeting every year, where presidents and vice presidents of 85 clubs attend and vote on important issues. Guynn, a leader in the Toastmasters organization, has been tasked with facilitating this meeting several times.
“At first, it was terrifying. That’s a lot of voices.” Practicing helped Guynn learn how to successfully steer the meeting so the group could get tasks accomplished. “If you don’t have those skills, it’s off the rails. You really need to know what you’re doing.”
Guynn has become a skilled meeting facilitator, which has come in handy in multiple areas of her life, including her work in employee benefits at TrueNorth in Cedar Rapids. Outside of work, she is president of her condo association. The meetings typically last about 45 minutes. Before she joined, they took about two hours. She attributes this improvement to her ability to reel the group in if they start to wander off topic and her commitment to sticking to a set time.
“Everyone knows the start and stop time, and I always send out an agenda.” Guynn says having an agenda and clear goals are important for any meeting. Otherwise, you’re having a meeting just to have a meeting. “What are we trying to accomplish? What decisions are we trying to make? How are we using this meeting to move forward?” she asked. Although she still occasionally has to work to keep her condo association on track, most of the members are very responsive to her systematic methods. “They’re so appreciative that we’re in and out in 45 minutes.”
Deliberate follow-through is another key part of a successful meeting, according to Guynn. “Send out the action items, due dates and follow up on them.” Having a separate leader, facilitator, and note taker can help keep things organized and ensure that action items don’t get lost in the mix. Although she refers to practicing meeting skills as “geeking out,” she’s learned how to guide people so they can use their time effectively and get more done.
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“It’s allowed me to make meetings more productive.”
Books on leadership:
• “Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t” by Simon Sinek
• “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable” by Patrick Lencioni
• “Leadership and Self-Deception: Getting Out of the Box” by The Arbinger Institute