Getting the most out of a meeting
I could start quoting all the studies that have concluded that most meetings are a waste of time and that most people are frustrated by ineffective meeting. But that would be an ineffective blog post.
Meetings tend to run more smoothly and effectively by focusing not only on the meeting execution itself, but also on the preparation and follow-up. Let me pick out one point of each of these phases. Next time you run a meeting, try out these three ideas:
1. Preparation: define your meeting purpose and how you want to achieve it
Make this a conscious process. Write down and share the meeting purpose in your invitation. Please go further than saying:
„The purpose of this meeting is to discuss the issues of project ABC“.
Be more concrete:
„Let’s work on sorting out the technical issues of project ABC. We start by making a list of the issues that you discovered this week. Then we decide which issues need to be tackled with priority. Then we define concrete actions to get the job done.“
Your participants know what to prepare ahead of the meeting and therefore don’t start looking through their mailboxes or notes during the meeting.
And you give a structure for how you want to proceed. This allows you to steer the discussion. I’ve seen in countless meetings that people immediately want to jump into solution mode, i.e. the first issue is discussed in detail along with solutions and before you know it, the meeting time is over and you don’t even know if that was issue #1 of 372 or if that was all.
As part of this preparation aspect you can also give a thought to supporting media – flip chart, moderation cards, Excel list,… when preparing this, have the meeting execution and follow-up in the back of your head, i.e. make sure your notes can be used easily afterwards.
2. Execution: start on time
We’ve all waited for meetings to start because participants or – even worse – hosts were late.
If you are the host, you define the rules. Insist on starting on time. Make sure that people get to know you as someone who is punctual. This also directly influences their perception of your competence by the way. If you have subordinates who are notoriously late, put this topic on the table and make sure they understand that you insist on punctuality.
This of course means that you need to be on time. On time for you as a host means: early. Avoid scheduling/accepting meetings without buffer time in between. If you have meetings via telephone, like I did for several years, be sure to dial in at least a minute before the meeting is scheduled to start. What‘s my PIN? Ooops, typed a wrong digit, have to start again! Where is the screen sharing button? Does any of this sound familiar? It can and will happen, so it’s good to have an extra minute to sort out the technical issues.
3. Follow-up: communicate the action points
WHO does WHAT until WHEN? This is the minimum of what action points should contain. In my experience, during meetings you are busy with discussions and might end up with notes of the WHAT, but did not take the time to write down the WHO and WHEN.
That’s fine. After the call – ideally immediately afterwards when it’s still fresh to your mind – take a few minutes to add the WHO and the WHEN. You can typically assign people and deadlines based on your experience and knowledge of the subject.
And now comes the key: if you send out action points in a file, chances are much higher that people won’t read them. Even if you state in your mail that there are actions in the file.
Instead, put the WHO – WHAT – WHEN directly into your mail, highlighting the names in color (use one color for all names to avoid a psychodelic rainbow mail).
This is of course also not a guarantee that everything will be done, but you increase the odds.
Mahatma Gandhi said „We need to be the change we want to see in the world“. I think he didn’t specifically mean leading effective meetings, but my message is the same. Whenever you can, make sure that you enable effective meetings.
And once you start noticing a change for the better, start chatting with your peers: „hey, I’ve been doing XYZ in my meetings lately and it’s been working really well“. It might spread and one fine day, you might wake up and find yourself in an organization where people like having meetings because they are an example of effective teamwork.