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 over an hour as we each took a turn to inform the others what we were up to at that particular red hot moment. And we all felt the need to make it sound important. Sometimes we came away from these gatherings with something useful. But it was pretty hit and miss. So here are some thoughts about getting the best out of meetings.
Meetings need good leadership to be optimally useful. And good leadership in this sense often means creating a good structure. For instance:
- Every meeting should have a stated purpose. So often people attend a meeting to discuss something. That something develops into a bunch of other somethings and when they leave the room, no one is clear about what has actually been decided or accomplished. So, ensure that before you call a meeting you have a clear objective for holding it and an equally clear view of what you want the group to achieve by the end of it.
- Once you have the purpose nailed down, Develop an Agenda to follow to allow you to manage your time optimally. If you are leading the meeting it will be your job to make sure everyone stays on point. The agenda is the tool you use to achieve that and also to manage your time.
- 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 in the room together. Examples include agreeing to keep what is said in the meeting confidential or encouraging respectful dialogue while agreeing that only one person will speak at a time…that sort of thing.
- State the assumptions you are working under. For instance you may be assuming that the attendees know each other or that everyone is clear about why you are meeting. Checking out your assumptions before you launch into the agenda saves you from having to backtrack later.
- That done, your job now, in addition to ensuring that you move through the agenda efficiently is to Ensure everyone has an opportunity to contribute to the meeting. 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 the discussion allows for input from everyone. After all, people generally are not invited to be part of a meeting unless it is felt that they have something to contribute. So encourage the quiet ones and manage the more talkative ones so everyone has room to have their say.
- Before adjourning your 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 leaving the room, check back to your meeting objective. Are you leaving with what you intended to get when you started? If you did, then your time was well spent. If you got more than you expected, (and happily, that happens) that’s even better. If not, what might you do differently next time?
Want to know more about managing meetings?
Here’s a preview copy of Meetings Bloody Meetings, with the delightful John Cleese. It’s a bit long but worth the effort. Enjoy