Natalie Garcia

Why Meeting Audits Are Crucial To Your Growing Nonprofit

by Natalie Garcia, People and Culture Manager, Notley
Running effective meetings is a crucial part of managing any growing organization. More efficient meetings will allow your team members to increase engagement, better manage their time, align on goals and priorities, and resolve many of the common complaints we all have about poorly-run meetings: Why am I here?  What is the goal? Where is the agenda? 
This step-by-step guide will provide you with the tools you need to implement a meeting audit within your own organization and streamline processes across your growing nonprofit.

The Audit and Field Research

1. Identify the Auditor 

Who is one of your best systems thinkers? Ideally this is someone on your Operations or HR team that is masterful in creating, organizing and implementing standard operating procedures and best practices in your organization. 

2. Gather Intel 

Send everyone at your organization an anonymous survey to discover your team’s pain points and most common meeting issues. The best way to narrow the scope of what you’ll look for in your audits is to identify the most commonly mentioned negatives, whether that be which meeting needs the most help or what team members think the reasoning is behind why the meeting isn’t successful.  

Our FREE survey template is a great starting point for anyone wanting to implement this strategy in their organization.
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3. Silently Observe 

Once you’ve gathered your initial feedback, start auditing various weekly meetings, particularly the ones most frequently called out in your survey as problematic or in need of improvements. Remote work makes it even easier to be a “fly on the wall,” so do your best to be a silent participant.

Take freestyle notes and write down anything and everything you think and feel in your observations to insure you don’t miss anything. These notes are for your eyes only, you can clean them up, edit, or use select quotes for public viewing later. Complete your own standardized survey built from discoveries made in the anonymous survey and your own online research.

Finally, have another trusted team-member (ideally someone in HR or Operations) audit a few meetings using your survey as well to reduce your meeting fatigue and potential bias in reporting.

Check out our FREE field research template for an easy way to organize notes during your observations!
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4. Read and Review

Look back at all of your survey data and the notes you’ve taken. Though it may be time-consuming, it will be worth it! Ask follow up questions or schedule brief strategy sessions with team members you’ve identified as effective meeting leaders and ideal attendees. Create a safe space for them to give you honest feedback one-on-one.  

5. Be Discreet

Though you may want to jump in and help right away, understand you’re building an organization-wide solution, not an individual or small group coaching session. If someone asks you for feedback immediately, feel free to give them one or two positive items, but it’s ok to say you aren’t ready to provide more information until you’ve built out your org-wide strategy and plan. Instead, encourage them to share their feedback with you. Often when someone asks you for feedback it’s because they have some they want to share. 

What Do I Do With My Findings

1. Steal Suggestions

Steal best practices from the survey and your observations of how leaders who are effective are doing it well and build a draft document containing all the ideas you like. 

2. Build Your ‘Call Out’ List

You may never need to use it, but it’s a good exercise in helping you craft your suggestions:

  • Who are repeat offenders on tardiness, interruptions, diversions? Prepare your factual, objective and unbiased notes as if you were going to discuss them with that individual’s manager. Or, if they are a manager, how would you candidly discuss it with another executive to ask for their guidance in framing your feedback.

  • Why is a meeting “not well-run” or “disorganized” ? Is that the fault of the organizer, or are others in the room bulldozing them into submission? When is the meeting problematic because of the organizer, and when is it problematic because of the attendees? More often, it will be both.

  • Write your notes as if no one will ever read them. This is not a time to be delicate or hold back. Through honesty will come answers. You can always reframe your messaging later. 
3.  Review, Relay and Organize

Take those ideas and run them by another trusted manager or department lead, HR or Operations Exec to critique your initial thoughts. 

Look at your org chart for help in distributing human capital to create more effective meeting work flows. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Is there too much redundancy? Not everyone has to be in every meeting.

  • Are meetings happening earlier or later in the week than they should be? 

  • Are you under- or over-utilizing one-on-one meetings?

  • Is there a standardized way to format agendas and action items?
4. Prepare and Propose

Bring forth multiple solutions that can be used exclusively or in tandem with each other. What works for one department might not work for another, so you’ll want to create something in the spirit of a buffet-style solution, allowing each leader to pick and choose elements that they feel will help their team. 

Bring your larger-scale solutions to leadership first before widely distributing, again asking them to tell you why they won’t work or what may be of concern so you can refine and further define anything that isn’t vetted. Ask for a team to do a test run with your solutions and share what they report org-wide to encourage others to welcome change. 

Remember any improvement, no matter how small, can likely go a long way in creating a domino effect with other meetings. For example, if one meeting constantly has people who are late and the meeting starts late and runs over, recognize that it doesn't just affect that particular meeting, but could be affecting everything else that happens in the day or week following it.

5. Implement!

Share your recommendations with the broader team. Include both specific solutions (we will be moving your meeting to earlier in the week to accommodate the broader org) and broader best practices (encourage meeting attendees to be on time). Plan to periodically check in with the team about meeting efficiency and continue to monitor how to best utilize everyone's time.

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