It’s about time we started to make meetings matter a little more. I’ve recently had several people tell me that they are expected to be in meetings nearly all day long (both physical and virtual meetings) and they have not time to get the real job done! That cannot be sensible!
Improving this is so simple, it just takes a little common sense and the guts to challenge the status quo.
I have one essential, and eight rules that can transform your organisations meetings so that they matter.
Every meeting must have a clear purpose.
Understanding that purpose helps us to know what our likely contribution would be and therefore helps us to prepare that contribution in advance. Attendance at any meeting is only valid when we have some form of contribution!
There are only ten common reasons for a meeting, five are to do with the fact ‘they want’ something, and five are related to what ‘they are’ doing. If your meeting does not fall within one of these categories, then simply forget it, you don’t need it!
Here are the valid things ‘they want’:
- A decision,
- to generate ideas,
- to solve a problem,
- to build relationship,
- to learn from the past.
Here are the valid things ‘they are’ doing:
- Getting an update,
- communicating something,
- making plans,
- exploring options,
- persuading others (sales).
Don’t accept failure, if the chairperson has been unclear about the meeting purpose then raise the challenge. If you are the chairperson, it’s easier, work it out and make sure you have a very clear purpose. My personal recommendation is that the best meetings only have one purpose, they are shorter, more focused and stick to a pre agreed time limit in order to achieve that purpose.
So for example we might state; this meeting is to explore cost options for the new customer solution, and will be completed in 40 minutes.
Be specific about the time period, it will condition everyone to work at an appropriate pace, and help to keep everyone on point.
The eight rules
Then consider what rules will be helpful to make meetings matter. Here are eight suggestions:
Rule 1: Run meetings as you would have others run meetings that you attend
This is the fundamental rule of good meeting management. Running an effective meeting or being a good meeting participant is all about being considerate of others and their time. All of the other rules flow from this principle.
Rule 2 : Is a meeting needed?
Carefully assess how often routine meetings really need to be held. For
example, if you have daily staff meetings, how productive are they? Can they be held less frequently? Or, perhaps they can be held standing up somewhere and kept to a few minutes? Staff meetings are crucial vehicles for maintaining good communication in the office, but it is important to find the right balance between good communication and productive use of time.
Rule 3: Prepare
Distribute the meeting agenda before the meeting and make sure everyone has access to any relevant background materials. Participants, of course, have the obligation of reviewing the agenda and background materials and arriving at the meeting prepared. If the meeting organiser has not provided adequate information about the objectives of the meeting, the participants should take the initiative to ask. No one should arrive at the meeting not knowing why they are there and what is supposed to be accomplished during it.
If there is nothing to put on the agenda, the organiser should ask themselves whether there really needs to be a meeting.
Rule 4: Have clear roles
There are many important roles to be carried out during a meeting and these can be spread out amongst the delegates. The chair or facilitator may delegate these to individuals which helps to share the responsibility of the success of the meeting with more people. These roles can be; chair or facilitator, timekeeper, scribe or notetaker, rabbit hole monitor (to stop the meetings being side-tracked), flip-chart writer and many more.
Rule 5: Set the rules
The most successful meetings are those where ground-rules are agreed at the start of the meeting. If you wait until it happens in the meeting your are too late and the offending person may feel picked upon.
Common ground-rules might be:
- Phone/blackberries switched off
- Treat others with respect by listening without interrupting
- Everyone is entitled to their opinion
- Confidential issues should be kept confidential outside of the meeting
- Timings must be kept to, people should be back promptly after breaks
- If you disagree be honest and say so
Rule 6: Stick to a schedule
Start and end the meeting on time. Starting on time requires discipline by the organiser and the participants. Arriving late shows a lack of consideration for all those who were on time. If the participants know that the organiser is going to start the meeting at the right time there is a much greater likelihood that the others will make the effort to be punctual. Remember ‘behaviour breeds behaviour’
Finishing in a timely manner is also crucial. If everyone agreed that the meeting would last an hour, the meeting should not run any longer that that. Keeping the agenda realistic is important, of course. Finally, if only 20 minutes are required to accomplish the objectives, the meeting should end then.
Except for emergency meetings, the time for which the meeting is scheduled is also important as arranging meetings after the working day and at unusual times can have a negative impact on morale and interest in the meeting.
Rule 7: Stay on topic
Most groups have at least one person who tends to go off on a tangent (or down a rabbit hole) or tell stories during meetings. Whether this is the organiser or one of the participants, all participants have a responsibility of gently guiding the meeting back to the agenda items.
Anything which is brought up which is not on the agenda can be put forward as an agenda item for another meeting.
Items which are mentioned which are in a later agenda item can be ‘parked’ by writing them on a white board or flip chart so that they are not forgotten about later on.
Rule 8: Have an action plan
Make sure you wrap up meetings with a clear statement of the next steps or actions to be taken.
Actions should be noted with; the what, the when and by whom they are going to be completed by.
This is crucial, if participants leave the meeting and no one is accountable for taking action on the decisions that were made, then the meeting will have been a waste of everyones time.