More Effective Meetings

The amount of time spent in meetings often seems disproportionate to the value of the outcomes yet it is all part and parcel of accepted business practice. But should it be? Attending meetings can become a habit and many people complain about having a day so packed with meetings that they have to rush from one to the next. To ensure your meetings are more effective in the future implement the following eight rules and see the difference.

1. Specific Objectives For Meeting

A meeting should only take place for a very specific reason and nothing more. Even if it is a regular progress meeting then that is all that should be covered and it should not take long at all. Make sure that everyone knows why the meeting is taking place and clarify it at the very start of the meeting and make sure you do not allow any diversions from that topic.

2. The Right People

All too often people turn up to a meeting and contribute absolutely nothing. So why are they there and shouldn’t they be off doing something productive instead? This situation is very common when there is a series of regular meetings with people using the excuse that they have nothing to add at that particular meeting but need to come along to “keep up to date”. Firstly, meetings are not the most efficient communication tool for keeping people up to date and secondly, make it very clear that if they have nothing to contribute it is perfectly acceptable not to come.

People sometimes consider themselves too busy to attend particular meetings and send along others in their place with a “line to take”. The difficulty here is that the person substituted for the one you need is often not authorised to make decisions but has to take them back, thus adding delay. The way round this is to make it abundantly clear that only decision makers are expected to attend and that decisions will be made even if some attendees send along substitutes or don’t turn up at all. They will soon get the message.

3. People Know What’s Expected Of Them

Make sure attendees know exactly what is expected of them at the meeting by giving them sufficient notice. The purpose of the meeting, the specific objective(s) and any reading material must also be included.

One reason why meetings drag on so long is that they get de-railed by long presentations of material that people should have prepared for in advance. Make it clear up front that people are expected to come ready to discuss and agree a way forward based on what was sent out in advance and that no presentations will be made (now there’s a thought). Again, once you start this way of managing your meetings it won’t take long before people get the message and your meetings will only take as long as they need to.

4. Never Defer What Needs Deciding

By having the right people with the authority to make decisions and who are prepared for the meeting there ought never be an occasion when decisions get deferred to another meeting. This might seem idealistic but think about it. If there is a need to hold a meeting at a particular time to come to a decision then deferring that decision to another meeting will only add delay and cost.

5. Choose The Right Location

Think carefully about the location you choose for your meeting as it can influence how people behave and contribute. Ad-hoc meetings within the normal working environment make sense but if you have decided to call a more formal meeting then chances are you will want to be distraction-free to allow discussions to take place and decisions to be made. Even if your business does not have dedicated meeting facilities consider either hiring somewhere or using other venues (coffee shops seem to be very popular but think about any commercial discussions in public places).

Not all meetings take place face-to-face so make sure you consider any needs for video-conferencing or tele-conferencing.

6. Be Rigorous With Time

Always let attendees know how long the meeting will take place and ensure you stick to it. This might seem obvious but many people who run their own meetings can get bogged down in the detail of the discussions and because of their passion over a particular subject run over time. Running meetings is a skill in itself and allowing sufficient time for each agenda item is the key. If you consider that it is important that you take part fully in the discussions then think about bringing in a facilitator to run the meeting for you or just part of it.

Another aspect of timing is when in the day or week you have the meeting. People calling in from different time zones around the world need to be considered as do the needs of day-to-day operations of the business. Remember that holding a meeting is not what your business is about, it is merely a way of moving forward.

Latecomers can be a real distraction to any meeting and especially so if they are senior managers. The trick here is not to go back on ground already covered but to acknowledge they have arrived late and to continue from where you were interrupted.

7. Notes Not Minutes

Only the briefest of notes need to be taken at any meeting and certainly not detailed minutes of who said what. A record of what the meeting was about, who attended, decisions taken and any actions is all that is needed and ought to be captured on a single sheet of paper.

8. Make Sure You Met The Meeting’s Objective

At the end of each meeting always review what the specific objective was and make sure you have achieved it. Seems straightforward enough but it is all too easy to finish a meeting and assume that all was successful only for someone to come back later and question the outcome. Far better to explicitly review and confirm that you achieved what you intended to before the meeting closes.

3 More Thoughts

  • Don’t meet just because you are in a routine of regular meetings and it has become a habit. Break the habit and call a stop to those meetings until one is really needed.
  • Add up the time per person for your meetings and any other costs, travel perhaps, and make a judgment call as to whether or not there is a positive ROI for each meeting.
  • Never use a meeting as a primary way of communicating messages, it’s far too costly.

Meetings can be a real drain on any business yet they are needed to ensure decisions are made with the right people present. By over-hauling your meetings using the guidance above there is a very real possibility that you reduce dramatically the number of meetings held and for those that remain they will be seen as a valuable use of people’s time and not a waste.

You might also be interested in Do Your Project Meetings Deliver?

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6 thoughts on “More Effective Meetings

  1. Pingback: More Effective Meetings | Staying in Touch

  2. Another good, thoughtful article Paul. Very sensible and practical stuff here and all things I think would make meetings much more purposeful. I recall one of my mentors telling me years ago when I was managing a NFP, there are only 5 reasons to have a meeting and if we aren’t achieving at least one of these, we are wasting our time and should adjourn: 1) sharing information (though taking on board your points, only if it’s of relevance and use to people; and it shouldn’t be the main reason to meet, there are other ways to share information), 2)problem-solving, 3)team-building, 4)planning and 5)brainstorming/decision-making (i.e. actually making decisions, not just going round and round in circles). This has always stood me in good stead and has been something that has freed me up to actually cancel meetings if I thought we weren’t going to attend to these things.

    • Thanks John. Your 5 reasons for having a meeting make absolute sense to me especially if there is a very specific objective or set of objectives for each individual meeting. Otherwise, as you say, things keep going round and round in circles. I think the difficulties arise when people are obliged to attend meetings that don’t match these rules and they don’t always have the ability, and often not the authority, to question the value of the meeting. Perhaps this is an indication of the organisational culture they have to work within but it’s a very real issue for some. If those who call meetings ‘get it’ then that’s when differences get noticed.

  3. These are great guidelines for effective meetings! I used to work in many different offices where we got stuck into “routine” meetings where we were no longer covering new or important items and really just wasting everyone’s time. It was very frusturating to know you were there with emails piling up back at your desk.

    • Thanks Stephanie. You bring up a good point here. When people feel obliged to turn up at a “routine” meeting or, even worse, are made to go, they are always thinking about what they ought to be doing instead and tend not to contribute as fully as perhaps they could.

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