The meeting that drags on and on; the meeting where everyone sits fidgeting with their smartphones; the one where just about every attendee is wondering why they even showed up. These are far too common. Here’s how to have more effective meetings.
Meetings fill an increasing number of hours in the workday, and yet most employees consider them a waste of time.
However there are ways to run efficient, effective meetings that leave your employees feeling energised and excited about their work. Here are some tips you can start applying today:
Make your objective clear
The first thing a meeting requires to be effective is a particular and defined objective. Meetings with vague objectives, such as “status updates” usually end up being a waste of time.
Before you send that calendar invite out to everyone, ask yourself: What do I seek to accomplish with this meeting? Are you alerting people to a change in management or a shift in strategy? Do you seek input from others on a problem the company is facing? Are you looking to find consensus or decision on a particular matter?
Make sure that the agenda is provided to attendees at least one day before the meeting.
Invite the right people
The people in the room can make or break your effective meetings. There are many meetings where the key person – a manager or executive – is not present. As a result, no significant decisions can be made.
When you’re calling a meeting, take time to think about who really needs to be there. If you’re announcing a change, invite the people who are affected by the announcement. If you’re trying to solve a problem, invite the people who will be good sources of information for a solution.
When people feel that what’s being discussed isn’t relevant to them, or that they lack the skills or expertise to be of assistance, they will view their attendance at the meeting as a waste of time. Also, if they realise that the key people are not in the meeting they will lose interest.
Stick to your schedule
Outline a clear agenda of everything you want to accomplish in the meeting, with every item assigned a specific period of time, and send it to the relevant people before the meeting. During the meeting, have that agenda projected or written somewhere everyone can see so that the meeting doesn’t lose focus.
Watching the clock is important in an effective meeting. When nobody takes charge of managing time, it is easy to become careless and unfocused. Remember – when people attend a meeting they literally cannot do anything else. So the least you can do is make the time count.
Effective meetings kick off on time and close on time. If you are in charge of organising regular meetings and video conferences and you develop a reputation for being someone who always sticks to your planned start and end time no matter what, you will be surprised how many more people will show up consistently for your meetings.
We all know time is out most precious and irreplaceable resource, so people are more naturally driven to cooperate with you when they know that you appreciate how valuable their time is.
Another key tip on time: Do not schedule any meeting to last longer than an hour because after this concentration levels start plummeting beyond recovery. it is better to schedule three separate meetings with considerable recovery time in between than a one long three-hour meeting.
Stick to your guns
Nothing derails a meeting faster than one person talking more than their fair share. If you notice one person monopolising the conversation, be it intentionally or inadvertently, call them out. Say, “We appreciate your contributions, but now we need input from others before making a decision.” Be bold about it.
Putting some ground rules in place as early as possible creates a strong foundation for you build an effective meeting on. At the start of the meeting, make sure to elaborate the strict rule that all attendees must keep their contributions focused on the agenda.
Furthermore, highlight how this rule is in place for everyone’s benefit – how it will help the meeting stay productive and end on time. Keep a printout of the meeting agenda in plain sight near you so that you can monitor and conduct the discussion easily.
Use the parking lot
Use a “parking lot” list to manage off-topic discussions. When someone raises an interesting point that does not relate to the agenda, say, “Thank you for that point but that goes beyond the purpose of this meeting. Let me write down that item in the parking lot and I will include it in the meeting notes so we can explore that point at the right time, perhaps in another separate meeting.”
This method helps you have a more effective meeting in two ways. First, it keeps the meeting focused on the stated agenda so that you don’t lose focus. Second, it acknowledges the points raised by attendees that are very important despite being out of the scope of the meeting such that people do not feel mentally imprisoned to only think about the items of the agenda, much as they may be all they need to discuss for now.
Follow up on the meeting
It is quite a common occurrence in many companies for attendees to leave the same meeting with very different interpretations of what happened. As you can expect, this presents an obstacle to executing whatever resolutions were made in the meeting so make sure to email a memo highlighting what was discussed to all who attended within 24 hours after the meeting.
Make note of responsibilities assigned, tasks delegated, the “parking lot” list and any agreed deadlines. That way, everyone will be on the same page. For very important matters, make a note on your calendar or task management tool of choice to continue following up until you reach a resolution.
Meetings are a powerful organisational tool that has unfortunately become synonymous with boredom and time wastage, even birthing the widely popular Dilbert comic strip that highlights the stress of enduring poorly run meetings. We’ve all had our fair share of disappointing meetings. But with the above tips, we can have more frequent effective meetings.