Consider these suggestions....
- Give the group a choice about how to complete the prep (either outside or within the meeting). You might say, "Everyone will need to review the requirements document prior to our review discussion. We can either do it as a group and plan to meet for a full day or everyone can review it offline, and the group will meet for 2-3 hours to discuss changes. Which approach does the group prefer?" Most groups will opt for the shorter meeting. This technique tends to work because the group was given the option to review the document during the meeting and they chose not to do that.
- Assign specific team members to lead certain sections of the meeting (which would require them to have completed the pre-work). When they know they will be asked to lead discussion, attendees are much more likely to have done their homework. No one wants to appear unprepared!
- Try to keep the pre-work brief. The more complicated it is, the less likely attendees are to complete it.
- Ask team members to email you either a list of questions or comments on the pre-work several days prior to the meeting. This acts as a confirmation to let you know that they have indeed reviewed the document. If you don't get feedback from someone on the team, place a call to them asap to request their feedback.
- Give attendees ample time to complete the pre-work. If you ask them to review a lengthy document 3 days prior to the meeting, it may not provide ample notice. Ideally, let the team select the due date for completion of the pre-work. This buy in significantly increases the likelihood of compliance.
- Discuss the issue of attendees not being prepared during the meeting debrief, and encourage the team to identify approaches to address the issue (e.g. incentives, "punishments", etc.)
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Dana Brownlee is President of Professionalism Matters, Inc. a boutique professional development corporate training firm. Her firm operates www.professionalismmatters.com and www.meetinggenie.com, an online resource for meeting facilitation tips, training, and instructional DVDs. Her latest publications are "Are You Running a Meeting or Drowning in Chaos?" and "5 Secrets to Virtually Cut Your Meeting Time in Half!" She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.