Bad meetings are a waste of time, and for those involved in complex tasks like writing, designing or programming, the time spent in the meeting is only part of the problem – the interruption of thought processes is a bigger issue.
Here are some tactics for running effective meetings, and a few tips on avoiding the bad ones.
Do you really, really, have to have a meeting? For one-way information delivery, there are more efficient ways to get the information out – send an email instead. Use meetings where you need a discussion and input from the participants, or you anticipate lots of questions and discussion from attendees after the (short) information session.
If you must, then:
- Set objectives/outcomes:
“By the end of the meeting, I want the group to… “
Make sure that you communicate the objective to all the participants, and if you are an attendee – ask for the objective before you commit your time.
In some cases you may need to provide the context along with the goal, e.g., our major expansion into … is happening, and we need to make a plan of action for …
For the meeting organiser(s) this means an Agenda. Think about what you want to say and what you need to learn in order to reach the goal you set in #2. Make sure you send the agenda to the meeting participants before the meeting – at least 24 hours before. Allow more time if they will be presenting data.
For the attendees, this means there is something to read or something to do before the meeting.
After working out the agenda, you will have a better idea of how much time to allow for the meeting. Break it up if it’s too long and consider whether you can invite attendees for particular agenda items and then let them go. If so, you’ll need to allot a time for each agenda item.
Confirm the meeting the day before. Send out a reminder of the time, place, and the required preparation.
- Start on time.
You need to respect the people who do turn up on time, not those who don’t. Some suggest closing the door and having latecomer’s pay a fine into the coffee jar.
If the organiser is late, the participants have some options too:
- Stay on target.
You went to the trouble of setting an agenda, and now you need to stick to it. Having someone act as the timekeeper will help. Anything off-topic that’s not helping to reach the meeting objective should be ‘parked’ for a later discussion, or assigned as a task for exploration. If there’s something that can be resolved by a much smaller group, assign it to them as a task. For each agenda item, as soon as you have the information, requested permission, decision, or tasks have been assigned, it’s time to move on.
If the meeting organiser won’t do it – step up as a participant and show how it’s done – this is your time being wasted.
Don’t allow phones, laptops, etc to be used in the meeting. You really can’t give your attention to two things at once. If it can’t wait, it goes outside.
- Record it.
You must keep minutes/notes. This is best done by someone else – preferably someone who does not need to be a major participatant in the discussions. Record who attended, who was missing, and the outcome of each agenda item. Collect any information/data documents to attach, record decisions made and tasks assigned as they happen. You do not need to record who said what, unless it’s a formal motion that’s proposed and seconded. For important decisions, you may want to briefly record how the decision was reached, e.g., what was considered, rejected etc.
At the close of the meeting, summarise what’s happened – major decisions, follow-ups and next actions.
- Finish on time.
You must respect the time of your attendees. If you’re an attendee and not getting that respect, consider leaving after the time you agreed to commit has passed.
Send the minutes to all the attendees within 24 hours.
Assess and improve your meeting process. You can self assess or ask for comments at the end of the meeting.
Did you achieve your meeting objective(s)? What worked, what didn’t? What could have been done better?
Calculate and publish the cost of your meeting to the business. Include the time costs for all participants. Was it worth it?
(hello Mr Deming…)
Incorporate improvements into your next meeting.