5 tips for better meetings

Community bankers share how they’ve made meetings more motivating, efficient and effective.

By William Atkinson

Unfocused, lengthy meetings can put a damper on productivity, morale and even a department’s culture. They can discourage top talent from staying with your bank or even applying Ito work there in the first place.

Dale Westwood, executive vice president and chief retail officer of $1.2 billion-asset QNB Bank in Quakertown, Penn., calls out informal, agenda-less meetings as a particular problem. “This just ends up wasting a tremendous amount of time,” she says.

Here are five tried-and-true strategies to help ensure your community bank’s meetings are productive, motivational and results-oriented.

1. Make and distribute an agenda. “You must have a specific agenda, including the names of who is responsible for each topic,” says Westwood. She recommends sending out agendas about a week before the meeting so people come prepared.

2. Maintain a rigid schedule. “It is a good idea to set meetings for a shorter timeline, such as 30 or 45 minutes, instead of an hour, and then start and end them on time,” says David M. Bowling, CEO of $750 million-asset Citizens Union Bank in Shelbyville, Ky. “This helps people stay on task instead of getting involved in rambling conversations.”

Westwood agrees. “I like to keep to the scheduled time,” she says. “If I call a meeting for one hour, I want it to last for one hour.” To encourage this, she often lists times on the agenda, such as that someone has 10 minutes to cover his or her topic. She also tries to assign tasks to people she knows are strong leaders and presenters. If an agenda item can’t be resolved during a meeting, Westwood will assign someone to do more research and will also meet later with the people who had a lot to say about the topic. She’ll then provide an update at the next meeting.

3. Assign action items. “Before the meeting ends, make sure everyone understands their future assignments and responsibilities,” says Westwood.

“Meetings are not designed to disseminate information. They are designed to make decisions and take action.”
—David M. Bowling, Citizens Union Bank

Bowling agrees. “There is no point in having a meeting if you have a nice conversation, then everyone walks away and nothing happens, or there is no sense of urgency about what needs to happen,” he says. “Meetings are not designed to disseminate information. They are designed to make decisions and take action.” Make sure someone in the meeting is taking thorough notes and recording the next steps and to whom they are assigned, so that meetings turn into action.

4. Take advantage of generational strengths. Westwood hires a lot of people right out of school. “[Younger people] like having tasks, and they like having expectations that are specific and that have specific timeframes,” she says.

“Age differences are not a problem, because we are all focused on success and solutions,” says Benjamin T. Nelson, senior vice president—residential mortgage lending for $1.5 billion-asset D.L. Evans Bank in Burley, Idaho. Nelson has loan processors and assistants in their early 20s, as well as underwriters and loan officers closer to retirement age.

He has found ways to capitalize on the strengths of the various generations. “For example, older people can often offer solutions based on experience, and younger people can often offer solutions based on technology,” he says.

5. Make the most of all-day meetings. Nelson schedules all-day meetings once a quarter and says detailed preparation is key. “I am always on the lookout for relevant topics to cover in the next meeting—things I can put on the agenda that will add value,” he says.

Nelson also likes to address the company’s “big picture” during all-day meetings. “I want to present a scorecard: where we are, where we were and where are we going,” he explains. “I also like to focus on a lot of positive stuff and successes.”

Quick stat


Hours the average executive spends in meetings per week

Source: University of North Carolina at Charlotte

If something must be addressed that is negative, he makes it solution-focused. “I want to create meetings that I would want to attend myself,” he says.

He also aims to create an open forum in which people can share and discuss ideas. “I want to help people learn about what the other areas are doing and make sure there is application for everyone else.”

To ensure maximum participation, Nelson arranges for fellow employees to give presentations and sometimes schedules outside guest speakers.

He also has a “no device” rule to keep people focused. “We schedule breaks throughout the day, so people can go outside and check their messages,” he says.

Finally, he works to create a motivating sendoff. “During the final wrap-up, we go over the topics and the applications,” he says. “I remind everyone of my belief in them and their potential.”

Reap the benefits

Bowling says good meetings reflect the overall company culture. “When people see that meetings are run this way, it becomes part of the overall culture,” he says.

Nelson says meeting prep is an investment that can pay off. “People appreciate when you’re not wasting their time,” he says. “There is a big difference between our department now and three years ago when I took over. Back then, people were down, negative and there was a lot of blame. With good meetings, we have been able to change the whole attitude of the department.”

“Years ago, when meetings were not well-run, people were frustrated, saying, ‘What were those last two hours about?’” Westwood says. “These days, people leave meetings feeling good because things got accomplished.” She’s found this has led to improved productivity and morale, because everyone knows what is expected of them, and they know things are going to get done.

William Atkinson is a writer in Illinois.