It happened every Friday morning. My colleagues and I would sit around a very large conference table, shaking the sleep out of our heads, inhaling excessive amounts of coffee and chatting about, well, whatever. We would be there for just over an hour, sometimes longer, as we each took a turn to inform the others about our activities at that particular red-hot moment. And, of course, we all felt the need to make it sound important, so the tendency was to stretch it out a bit and use a lot of buzz type, filler words. Sometimes we came away from these gatherings with something useful but mostly, to be honest, it wasn’t a very productive way to spend our time. Sound familiar? Yep…thought so.
Today, through the magic of technology, there are a variety of ways for people to share information and to “meet”. Not to be too cynical about it but that also means there are a variety of ways to waste time, unless we put some discipline around the process.
The point is, meetings, whether in person or online, need both good leadership and management to be optimally useful. And that often means creating a good structure. Here are some thoughts about that.
Every meeting should have a stated purpose. So often people attend a meeting with only a vague idea as to why they are there. Or, they start out thinking they are there to discuss one something but end up talking about a bunch of other somethings and by the time they leave the room, no one knows what has actually been decided or achieved. So, the task is to be clear about what the group must accomplish to make the meeting worthwhile. Then, once the purpose is nailed down:
Develop an Agenda. This will allow for optimal time management. It is the meeting Leader’s job to make sure everyone stays on point and within the time allowed. The agenda is the tool to use to accomplish that.
Invite the right people This is not about being exclusive. It is about ensuring that those who will be giving their time up to attend a meeting will a) have an interest in the outcome and b) have the knowledge and/or skill required to contribute to its success. So, a good question to ask when preparing to call a meeting is; who needs to be here?
Gain agreement on a set of principles about how you are going to behave in the meeting. These don’t have to be complicated, philosophical or lofty in any way. They simply speak to the environment you want to create for the time you will be together. For instance, what might you want to do about the use of electronic equipment (i.e. cell phones, laptops, etc) while the meeting is in progress? Will these devices help to progress the meeting or get in the way? What about confidentiality? Will it be important or not so much? You get the idea.
State the assumptions you are working under. This is one we often forget in our haste to get on with a meeting. For instance, it is easy to assume (but not necessarily true) that attendees have everything they need to make their best contribution to the meeting. Are they clear on the purpose? Does everyone know each other? …that kind of thing. Checking out assumptions before launching into the agenda saves us from having to backtrack later. That done, the job, in addition to moving through the agenda efficiently becomes to:
Ensure everyone has an opportunity to contribute. Let’s face it, in every meeting there will be those who love to talk and those who will say little or nothing. Managing the flow of conversation and inviting a variety of people to share their views allows for a richer and more satisfying outcome. Then, before adjourning the meeting:
Make some decisions about what’s next. Identify what work has to be done; who is going to do it; and by when. And finally, before adjourning the meeting:
Check back to the meeting objective. Was it accomplished? If the answer is yes, then the time was well spent. If you got more than expected, (and happily, that happens) that’s even better.
What about you? What is your experience with meetings? What do you do to ensure that you get what you want from them? Any tips, tricks or stories to share?
Here’s a clip of John Cleese’s video series called Meetings Bloody Meetings. It’s old now but still relevant…and fun. Enjoy.