Speed Up Meetings by Assigning Roles

Don't be like a Gauntlet III team! Help your meetings flow smoothly and productive.

Stever Robbins
3-minute read
Episode #14

Today we'll make your meeting less like the "Gauntlet," and more like, well, Thanksgiving Dinner at Beaver Cleaver's house. We'll pick up where "Meeting Madness One" left off. If you listened to "Meeting Madness One," by now you know why you're having meetings. Once you get there, though, you actually need to make the darn thing work. The quick and dirty tip is to assign three roles in each meeting: facilitator, timekeeper, and scribe.

The facilitator keeps the topic on track. Let's say you're discussing whether to install a new drinking fountain. Naturally, you get diverted into discussions of the impending world-wide water shortage. The facilitator gently brings you back on topic by saying something like, "We won't have a water shortage if we install the new drinking fountain. So let's move on, shall we?"

The facilitator also keeps track of who's been talking and makes sure everyone gets heard. This counter-balances your local alpha-male-wannabes who dominate by being loud and talking a lot. Sometimes, they pound their chest. They get their way because it's easier to give in than ask them to stop with the chest thing. A good facilitator might suggest, "Bob, we've heard and loved your stories from your 17 fun-filled years as an archeological utensil scraper. Perhaps Sue might contribute, too, seeing as she brings 23 years of drinking fountain planning, installation, and maintenance experience."

Choose a facilitator who doesn't have strong feelings about what's being discussed. If they're neutral, it makes it easier for them to make sure all sides get heard. Otherwise, they can be tempted to keep discussion open too long on their own favorite topics.

The timekeeper--not to be confused with the gatekeeper or keymaster--gets to live out their prison guard fantasies (admit it, we all have them). At the start of the meeting, of course you reviewed your agenda and decided how much time to spend on each topic. The timekeeper gets to jump up and yell, "Time!!" when time's up on an item. And there's a bonus! When tempers get hot, the timekeeper makes a convenient target for everyone's suppressed hostility. "What do you mean TIME?!?! You #*(@#$&#* timekeeper!"

Sometimes, the facilitator is also the timekeeper. Personally, I find facilitating content and tracking time to be a bit more than I can handle. So if there's no one around to play timekeeper, I use an electronic timer with a loud buzz. Everyone hears it, no one can take it personally, and I get to pretend I'm also disappointed that the timer cut us short. Inside? I'm dancing with glee.

Lastly, the scribe takes notes. They don't have to note everything, but should at least capture key decisions, the broad rationale behind each decision, and action items that come out of the meeting. In a poorly-run meeting, scribe is a fun job, because there's nothing to write down; decisions don't get made and action items don't get assigned, so volunteer to be the scribe. Then you can practice doodling, or even work on that novel you haven't had time for (this means you, listener Ken with the wife, three kids, and unwritten novel).

What if you don't have enough people to do all three jobs? You can certainly combine jobs. Sometimes, one person does all three. But it takes a lot of concentration to keep things on track, watch the clock, and write.


About the Author

Stever Robbins

Stever Robbins was the host of the podcast Get-it-Done Guy from 2007 to 2019. He is a graduate of W. Edward Deming’s Total Quality Management training program and a Certified Master Trainer Elite of NLP. He holds an MBA from the Harvard Business School and a BS in Computer Sciences from MIT.