How to Schedule a Meeting

The very first thing I teach my student leaders is how to respond to a meeting request and how to schedule a meeting. Qualities of a good leader, conflict resolution, goal setting, and vision are all great things, but if they are not in the room to begin with all is lost. Because of this, attendance is the #1 priority of our student leaders.


Of course there are a number of ways to schedule a meeting. The go-to-default option most students use is Pin The Tail on the Donkey method where they just throw out one date/time after another until they (randomly) hit a time when everyone can be there. This is not efficient OR effective. I highly recommend, instead, students and staff use a scheduling tool.


Tools


When scheduling a meeting there are a number of tools available for free or on subscription. Personally, I like free and use the two tools Doodle or WhenIsGood.net. Both sites find common times when everyone is available by selecting your own availability, sending out a link, and then checking back to review responses. When is Good is best for the computer and with more open schedules with many options. Doodle is better for mobile and fewer options or more tight schedules. Both have free and paid versions.


What I like in particular about WhenIsGood is how I can gather availability without needing to set a predetermined meeting length. I can send out a request, my members paint over whenever they are free, and I can then find the largest block of time easily. This is especially helpful when you have a large number of options for the meeting time as you don’t need to individually click on each option, only click and drag over when you are free. Because of that, though, the site is mostly good for computer/laptop/Chromebook. The mobile interface for WhenIsGood does require you to “click” on each option and is tedious to the point of being unusable as of this writing (5/2020).


Doodle, on the other hand, is much more mobile friendly, especially with their app. Additionally, the free version of Doodle allows you to select an “if need be” option that is quite useful when trying to find times in very tight schedules. However, because each selection has two options, having numerous options becomes a little more involved to fill out. I’ve had many students say they are unavailable when they should have selected “if need be.”


In the end, the tool you want to use depends on your situation and how you plan on using it. When I was in college looking for the largest chunk of time open for our ensemble to practice together and much of what I did was computer based anyway, WhenIsGood is what we used. Now, going into teaching year 8 with much more limited availability and a far more students on mobile, I like using Doodle.


Whatever tool you do use, you will need to make sure you teach students how to use it. Explain, Demonstrate, Guide, Enable. Set out the expectations and continually refresh those until these skills become as habitual as remembering to include a subject when sending an email.


Expectations


100% attendance at 100% of the meetings. Everyone is important in the leadership team. There is no second string; there are no weak links. Every leader. Every time. No exceptions. It can be incredibly tempting to schedule a meeting where there is just one kid who cannot make it - especially when even that date was hard to come by. Do not do it. Values are only proven true when they are tested. Insist on this rule or you will find “exceptions” become the new “normal.” A main reason for not being able to get everyone in the same room, I have found, is that students are not honest with their availability. 


Students must be honest with their availability. Scheduling a meeting is like layering swiss cheese and looking for a hole that goes through every slice. The more pieces of cheese we add on top, the more difficult it will be to find a hole. That Cheesy ChallengeTM is made even more difficult when the cheese slices decide, for one reason or another, to hide their holes. If you have properly taught the three availabilities (outlined below), you must hold them to make their reports honest.


Respond quickly to meeting requests. I get “not being attached to your e-mail.” I get “not looking at your phone when you are at work.” But everyone should be able to respond to an availability request within 48 hours and most of the time within 12 hours. In order to get 100% attendance, 100% of the time, some students may need to get coverage for work, or rearrange other plans, or turn down other requests for that same piece of time. None of that can happen until every person responds to the request. Students must respond to meeting requests as soon as possible.


The Three Availabilities


It only counts as teaching if the students have learned it. Learning can only be proven when the student can demonstrate the skill independently a period of time later. You can copy and paste the following section to explain to students the three availabilities, but until they practice it in a meaningful way, they will not learn it. The Boy Scouts of America use the EDGE method to teach (Explain, Demonstrate, Guide, Enable). May I suggest copious time spent on practicing this skill with you watching as it is a foundational skill. I’ve included some scenarios that I have used with my groups, but they will be far more effective if you adapt them to your own situation.


Cannot Make It

This should be renamed as “absolutely cannot make it.” This is what you put down for conflicts that, no matter how hard you tried, you cannot get out of. Examples would be weddings, funerals, vacations planned long ago. If a conflict exists that you can get out of, it does not belong in this category.


A work conflict could fall into this category if you are in a position that does not allow for substitutes or the conflict is less than two weeks away and your employer does not have that type of flexibility. If the work conflict is over two weeks away, most employers allow you to request a schedule change. While that is not ideal, it is possible, and should be marked as a “if need be” and not “cannot make it.”


If Need Be

This designation is for conflicts that exist that you could escape; this designation is also for days on which you would rather not meet, but could if needed. Examples of this kind of conflict could be a work conflict that is more than a week away for which you could get coverage or rescheduling a study group session.


If you are a busy person, most of your schedule will be this designation and not cannot make it. As a student leader, you have an obligation to this organization and the students under you to make this organization a priority over most other commitments.


Available

This is for time slots that are free or have minor conflicts that you could easily solve. An example of that kind of conflict would be you normally go running after school, but you could easily do your run after the meeting instead.


Scenarios

The following are scenarios I take my student leaders through after explaining the three types of availabilities. These will be most effective if you adapt them to your own situation.


Scenario 1:

  • Proposed time: Zoom call, 4:30 this Wednesday

  • Conflict: I babysit my little brother (7yo). My parents don’t get home until 6:00.

  • Answer: available / if need be

    • Bring your brother on the Zoom Call and hit mute.


Scenario 2:

  • Proposed time: Zoom call, 1:00 Tomorrow

  • Conflict: I have homework.

  • Answer: available

    • You can spare an hour. It just takes planning. 

    • As section leader, you can help your section with this.  Maybe after the Zoom Call, you can help them with the homework for a half hour.

    • AKA: “I have so much to do.” “I just don’t want to.” “Mom needs help.”


Scenario 3:

  • Proposed time: Sectional, 4:00 next Monday (10 days away)

  • Conflict: I work.

  • Answer: if need be (in most cases)

    • You can request off or find a sub. It’s not pleasant or easy at times. You would rather not have to. However, it can be done.

    • We won’t choose “if need be” options unless it is the last option that will get us 100% attendance.


Scenario 4:

  • Proposed time: Sectional, 4:00 tomorrow

  • Conflict: I work.

  • Answer: not available / if need be

    • This is not a realistic expectation for most people. Work schedules can be negotiated, but only reliably if you have at least a week’s notice.

    • You can put it out there, as an option, but it is inappropriate to expect 100% attendance on a short-notice work conflict.


The Process


Do This:

  1. State your expectations.

  2. Teach your student leaders the three availabilities. -- It is not taught, until it is learned.

  3. Create a Doodle or a WhenIsGood of the dates that work for you.

  4. Send out the link to the student leaders with a deadline. (I recommend 24-48 hours)

  5. Reach out individually to the students who have not responded or responded confusingly to your request at the halfway mark to the deadline.

  6. Send out the finalized time at or before the deadline.


Things to remember:

  1. If you didn’t teach it, you cannot expect it. Do not expect your new student leaders to know how to prioritize their calendar if you have not explicitly taught them how to do so.

  2. Everything you do needs to have a deadline.


Don’t Do This:

  1. Expect students to fill out their availability accurately without first being taught how.

  2. Send anything out without a deadline.

  3. Let the deadline pass without action.


Scheduling Without Using Scheduling Tools 

If you do try to schedule over e-mail or text without using a scheduling tools, follow these rules:

  1. If Sally is the one who says she cannot make it, Sally is the one who must propose the next date/time.

  2. When appropriate, students should share why they cannot make the proposed time.

  3. Do not let students “opt out” of the meeting to “make it easier” on others: 100% attendance at 100% of the meetings.


Conclusion


Best of luck instilling this lifelong skill to your student leaders. If you have any questions, find a typo, or you have your own ideas, shoot me an e-mail or drop a comment below.


Until next time,


NT

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