Meetings are a wonderful opportunity to engage with work colleagues, get creative and be collaborative on issues that are important to everybody. So why do so many people feel they are an ineffective use of time? In this article, we will be covering how to get the best from your meetings so they are productive, engaging and successful.
Throughout my career, I’ve been to hundreds of meetings, some useful and some utterly dreadful.
So what sets apart the good from the bad?
The first issue is how to avoid the ‘talking shop’ meeting where everyone has an opinion and nothing really gets decided. Everyone enjoys a healthy and intellectual debate but no one takes ownership and no progress is made.
A previous manager of mine said he would never turn up to a meeting without an agenda and I agree. An informative agenda is an essential part of success. Make sure you have a list of the items you need to cover and the outcomes you want. The meeting needs to be purpose-led. The point of the meeting is to get a useful result, so make the purpose and outcome clear when you invite people.
The language we use when inviting people to a meeting is also important. If you state in the diary invite, ‘we need to discuss the issues on this project’, this might give you an idea of what the meeting is for but it doesn’t tell you the purpose of the meeting.
A possible reframe of the statement could be, ‘We need to agree on a solution for the 3 problems listed on the agenda. There are 2 identified options available and the outcome of the meeting is to choose one option to deliver. Please consider your preference prior to the meeting’. From this wording, it is very clear what outcome is required from that meeting.
Secondly, what can you do to resolve any potential issues or queries prior to the meeting?
People already know what the options are so this will prompt them to start considering their preferred one. They may have questions that might be easily answered and not relevant to the other decision-makers in the meeting. Therefore it’s a good opportunity to follow up with each attendee once you’ve sent the agenda out. This will avoid unhelpful distractions during the session.
Also, consider asking for feedback and opinions and see if there are any other alternatives that need to be tested and thought through. This helps to avoid surprises in the meeting.
Pre-meeting chats are also a good way to get advocates to support you when influencing people to take up a particular option. One-to-one conversations outside the meeting can be put to use in a powerful way once you get into the meeting. They can also put people at ease by becoming familiar with you as a colleague, building trust and rapport as well as understanding the issue better. It makes it much easier to influence others who may be sitting on the fence or have an opposing view.
A third aspect to enable effective meetings is to set the rules or boundaries of how the meeting will run.
Again, this can be done prior to the meeting or at the start. Setting out how you want to work together in the meeting could be a good thing. If it’s an all-day meeting, let everybody agree when they want breaks, when they want their lunch, how they want to everyone to behave and communicate. They may want to be allowed to express their opinion without being interrupted or want 10 minutes of space to think after every discussion. So setting out a team agreement where people are clear about how they want to feel and be treated in the session can encourage a positive team spirit.
All these are good ways to encourage people to be collaborative, work as a team and focus on a common goal.
Timing is the fourth consideration when holding effective meetings.
If there is a limited amount of time, and a number of issues, you could allocate a specific amount of time to each issue, and be clear upfront that issues will not drag over that allocation. If an issue cannot be resolved in the time frame, then a separate meeting can be called to discuss the meeting further. This should keep the meeting on track.
Holding meetings on Mondays when you want big decisions, often ends with the main decision-makers wanting to take further consideration of the issue.
Meetings on a Friday, especially in the exec world, can be quicker and more productive as they’re more likely to want to wrap things up before the weekend, so they don’t have to worry about things in their time away from the office. Many execs and directors in my experience tend to work from home on a Friday or be out of the office. So book as far in advance as you can and spend some time working out when the best day of the week is to assist in a quicker decision being reached.
My fifth consideration for effective meetings is, if you are chairing or hosting a meeting, you need to dig deep and find your courage. It’s not easy when you have senior people or many people in meetings, who have different opinions and some want to dominate the conversation. You have to be brave and bold. Stick to the agenda, stick to the timings, and be disciplined.
Having someone who is backing you up in that meeting to help you keep things on track is always a good thing. So find a supporter prior to going into the meeting to help you keep things on track. Use a flip chart to park any issues raised that can be dealt with at a different time.
Make sure all those in the meeting have the authority to make a decision or they have been delegated the authority if they are standing in for someone else. The upfront agenda should be clear about who needs to decide what.
An easy way to remember some of this is to use the acronym. P.O.S.T.
Purpose – why are you having the meeting.
Outcome – what needs to happen or come out of the meeting.
Structure – how will the meeting be organised and ran.
Timing – when is the best time to have it, how long should it be, how long will each section be given.
Give a thought to the activity required post the meeting too as this is probably just as important.
Make sure people are clear about the decisions that have been made and the actions they need to take. Ensure a target date is set to hold people accountable for what they have committed to do. Communicate the actions widely so people don’t forget them.
Minutes of the meeting are all well and good, but they can be time-consuming. Just capture the important stuff i.e. the decision. the action, the owner, the target date and key risks. Recap the responsibilities at the end to confirm acceptance of ownership. It’s also useful, if you are the lead/chair, to have a separate note-taker. This allows you to focus on controlling the session.
Meetings can be really beneficial if they are carefully thought through and planned well. Progress will be made by gaining multiple stakeholder agreement if you are clear from the outset and intentional about the outcome.
Following these simple steps will help structure, control and manage your performance in delivering a super-effective meeting.