Meetings Matter

Meetings: scourge of the working day or a top way to make things happen? Go for the biggest outcome from the smallest window. Start with basics.

Focus

Do you want to share information or status reports, make a decision, brainstorm ideas or solve a problem? Complete this sentence 'by the end of this meeting I want us to have…'. If appropriate, circulate an agenda in advance. Ask people to think about a task or problem ahead of time so they come prepared.

Who needs to be there... really?

Meetings lose momentum when there are just too many people there. Are there some things you want everyone to know about but other business involves only a small core group? Schedule so you can deal with what involves everyone first. Then, like the man said, 'let my people go'. They'll thank you. The core group can then focus on what they need to achieve. If there are a lot of people moving at once, this is your moment to schedule coffee for those staying on.

Timing

When are all the participants most likely to be available, awake and enthused? Early mornings are good though you can lose points on the 'awake-o-meter' or because of latecomers and 'what was on TV last night'. But everyone wants to be done quickly so they can get on with the day. Mid-morning means people have made some headway on their desk, they're awake and in work harness. However, you risk burning up the most productive hours of the day if you let it drag on. Work to an 'end stop' event like lunch so there's a natural time to finish. Late afternoons are low on the 'awake and enthused-o-meter' but may still work. If you call a meeting in the last half hour of the day, you risk energy being low but you increase your chances of everyone in the room being committed to achieving outcomes in the fastest, smoothest way possible.

When scheduling, a half hour is good, an hour at most.  No matter how much business there is to go through, after an hour you've lost them. Schedule a series of smaller purpose-built appointments if you have to.

Who's leading?

A facilitator is clear on the purpose of the meeting, keeps the group on task, summarises outcomes and outlines who is accountable for them. Gain the reputation of someone who starts on time, keeps to time and ends on time. People appreciate you understand they're busy. Be firm with anyone who takes the meeting off-topic. Keep it light too - it's important to stay on task but a sense of humour keeps you on task as a team. Ask someone to note down outcomes. As chair, model good listening skills by being respectful and attentive to all participants. Make sure everyone has input and is heard. At the close of the meeting summarise what's been achieved. Ask everyone if they thought the meeting was useful and field suggestions for how it could have been more effective.

Kill the toys

Nothing is more soul destroying and unproductive than trying to drag a meeting to a result while one or more people monitor their emails and texts. Be firm but fair and thank the group for staying on task.

Agenda, minutes, action!

Agenda and minutes attract flak as hallmarks of the typical boring meeting. They don't have to be. Use an agenda to establish the purpose of the meeting. When you plan it, plan how much time to allocate to each agenda item. When you chair the meeting, it will keep you on track.

As far as possible, pare back minutes to what decisions were taken, what action is required, who's responsible and by when. Follow up after the meeting by emailing a brief summary highlighting tasks and outcomes. At the next meeting, use the minutes to check that people have done what they've said they would and, if not, detail the next best course of action.