…Now that was a great meeting
When you look at your work schedule for the week ahead and see a checkerboard of meetings and more meetings, do you…
- Groan over the possibility of tedious hours wasted?
- Put your mind to work to get ready for those meetings?
All three answers might hit home for a lot of folks.
You probably guessed it: the best answer is the last one. Meetings are often at the heart of the work we do. Despite their bad rap, a good meeting can be a useful tool on the path to success.
The problem: Too often, meetings are called without a clear purpose and goals. They last too long, attendees get sidetracked and there is no meaningful follow-up.
The good news: Anyone can plan and conduct effective, efficient and enjoyable meetings.
That is important – because leadership increasingly means using our interpersonal skills to get things done.
Why are we here anyway?
Meetings should be held for two reasons: To solidify the group as a team, and to forward a group’s work. Whether your group is gathering for a weekly staff meeting, video chatting from different corners of the world or coming together for an annual off-site planning session, there are some easy-to-apply practices that can ensure each meeting’s value.
The meeting organizer may hold the greatest responsibility to ensure the meeting achieves the stated goals— but everyone who attends should feel they have a stake in the meeting’s success. These easy-to-follow tips will help you have good meetings. Who knows? You might even grow to enjoy them!
1.Decide if the meeting is necessary before you schedule it. Ask yourself: “What needs to be accomplished?” Could a Slack chat, email or voicemail take care of the issue? Can you just walk down the hall to visit with someone or pick up the phone? Three questions can help you decide if a meeting is necessary:
- Do decisions need the expertise and agreement of different people?
- Do teams need to apply themselves collectively to solve problems?
- Are there conflicting ideas on the team that must be resolved for the greater good of the organization?
Remember – people no longer have time to spend in meetings for the sole purpose of information-sharing. It’s far better to send materials ahead of time then work together on what to do with the information.
2. Create and use a detailed agenda. It should include the meeting’s purpose, topics to be addressed, the lead person for each topic and the time allotted for each topic. Share the agenda with meeting participants ahead of time, along with any necessary supporting information. If an agenda cannot be developed before the meeting, start the meeting defining the agenda. You can provide handouts or cast it on screen to keep it clear in people’s minds.
3. Choose a good meeting space. Make sure everyone can be seated comfortably, and that the room has the right tools — whether it’s a glass or whiteboard or flip charts – you need something to scribble on. And if your meeting is virtual, or partly virtual, ensure you have the right equipment in the room so that all participants can hear each other. You may need adequate space for laptops, iPads or perhaps a monitor for showing work. Plan appropriate refreshments, meals and breaks.
4. Set clear ground rules. Guidelines generated by the group will ensure a productive, cooperative climate. If the same group meets regularly, the guidelines can be developed early and reviewed regularly. Guidelines can cover issues like how to encourage participation, how to manage conflict and how to stay on track. In productive meetings, everyone is part of the discussion and no one person dominates. If you are familiar with the Myers Briggs Type Indicator, this means those who tend to be extroverts — and organize their thoughts by talking — need to reign themselves in enough to make room for others’ contributions. For those who tend to be introverts — and organize their thoughts internally — this frequently means an explicit commitment to speak up in each meeting. Introverts will find good tips from Susan Cain, bestselling author of the book “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking”. She has a great blog post: ‘3 Strategies for Surviving Meetings” to help introverts thrive in meetings.
5. Make periodic process checks. The group should periodically pause to check on how the meeting is going. This can be as simple as asking, “What is working?” and “What do we need to do differently?” The most important thing is that the group act on suggestions.
6. Take and distribute action minutes. These do not have to be Robert’s Rules of Order minutes that capture every word that is said. Rather, your team needs minutes that briefly recount decisions made, and most importantly, detail the action items with who is responsible for each item and a completion date. If your group’s work is an ongoing process, you can usually develop the agenda for the next meeting from the decisions and actions of the current session. The Wunderlin Company has an easy-to-use template that you can pop open to use at your next meeting.
7. Invoke the 100-Mile Rule to avoid interruptions. In The Team Handbook, the authors propose a way to ensure that participants give you their full attention. They explain the rule this way: “Once a meeting begins, everyone is expected to give it his/her full attention. No one should be called from the meeting unless it is so important that the disruption would occur even if the meeting was 100 miles away from the workplace. ”Interruptions include texts and emails. One way to avoid electronic interruptions is to invoke a “no-electronics zone” to ensure everyone is focused. Some teams put phones and tablets in airplane mode while in meetings. If your team absolutely *need* electronics for research or note- taking, be clear about your expectations for their use. Be sure everyone knows when and how often you’ll take breaks so attendees can plan for their other responsibilities.
8. Choose your meeting tools wisely. Virtual meetings are a fact of everyday life these days. When folks can’t see each other, it can be “a special kind of meeting hell” where it’s easier for conversations to drift and for some members of the group to cheat by multi-tasking, said consultant Keith Ferrazzi in a Harvard Business Review blog post. His main tip for remote gatherings: Use video to keep people more focused. Whether you use Webex, Zoom, Google Meet, or GoTo Meeting – know the requirements of use and prepare your team members. For example, Zoom must be downloaded and installed ahead. You don’t want your meeting to start late because a few people are still trying to catch up with the technology. Some programs (like Google Meet) allow you to record the meeting, which can be helpful to alleviate confusion after the meeting or to share with stakeholders who were not able to attend. Research ahead to find the right tool for your budget and team’s physical needs.
9. Always have a facilitator, timekeeper, and note-taker. Meetings need these three roles. The facilitator (not necessarily the meeting leader) is responsible for keeping the meeting focused so that the group is listening to each other and working productively. The facilitator helps ensure the group follows its ground rules.The facilitator also posts ideas on a notes app or group chat or shared document when meeting remotely, or on flip charts or whiteboards as the discussion unfolds. The goal is that everyone can see the notes during and after the meeting. The timekeeper makes certain the group follows the agenda and manages time. The note-taker — or scribe — records key topics, main points raised during discussions, decisions made, action items and assigned owner and items to be discussed at future meetings. Many groups rotate these roles.
10. Begin and end on time. Demonstrate your respect for participants by keeping to the time planned. We love this old New York Times column, “When you have had one meeting too many,” where management consultant Carson Tate proposes a “meeting revolution” that features shorter meetings – even meeting standing up.
We do know this: we have never heard anyone complain when a meeting signed off early.
Want to learn more?
Resources abound for improving your meetings.
- The Team Handbook, by Peter R. Scholtes, Brian L. Joiner , and Barbara J. Streibel.
- Facilitating with Ease, by Ingrid Bens.
Do you have great resources you’ve found? Do you have hard-earned advice about meetings? If so, we’d like to hear from you. Drop us a line.
In the meantime, meet well.