Meetings. One of the most dreaded and wasteful activities in most organizations. At least, when they are not done right and don’t have the right focus. There are many types of meetings starting with presentations & training, workshops, all-hands, regular status meetings, quick stand-ups or decision making meetings. They fulfill also different purposes. Some are meant just to share information, some are meant to trigger discussion and some will provide a forum for making decisions. So what can you do to make these meetings painless, productive and really powerful? There are couple of basic rules that fit those needs most of the time.
Rules for truly productive meetings
- Have a goal – and communicate it clearly in the invitation. You may be really explicit like “The goal of this meeting so to decide what we have for lunch today.” Having a goal keeps you focused and sets the expectations of the audience. It will also enable you to show at the end of the meeting that “it was successful because you reached the goal and decided that today we get chicken” and thus participants will feel good about the time spent.
- Invite the right participants – and no one else. It is important to ensure that people on the meeting have a vested interest in the topics. What is the point of inviting Petr if we all know he doesn’t eat lunch?
- Have an agenda – and send it out together with the key information in advance. It will allow everyone (including you) to prepare. It will also allow the participants to raise their hand in case of missing topics. “Attached to the invitation is a menu from our favorite restaurant, please read it before the meeting so you are prepared for the discussions.”
- Time constrain the meeting – begin and end on time. Be mindful of everyone’s time. If meetings drag for longer than planned you will lose focus of attendees as they will be thinking about their next thing. “The meeting will be held on Tuesday at 10:00 and will finish 10:25.” It might be a good idea to allow people time to move from one meeting to another and thus don’t schedule for 1 hour or 30 minutes but rather for 45 or 25 minutes.
- Prepare – do as much work ahead of the meeting as possible. Prepare the structure, the important questions, you may even draft an outline of the meeting notes and fill in the blanks during the meeting. Share any documents or powerpoint slides before the meeting so people can study them in advance and prepare their questions.
- Focus – don’t get the meeting derailed by adding too many topics or getting into too much detail. If there is something to be discussed between limited number of participants then take it offline. “Guys I understand that some of you want to grab a beer after the lunch, please take it offline after the meeting.” And end every item with summary of the outcome to make sure everyone is clear on what was agreed.
- Keep list of Action Items – and identify who is the owner of each of them. Meeting without a list of decisions made or things to do will feel like waste of time. Even in meetings that are purely informational you can provide participants with a task (for example to distribute the information to their teams) so they don’t forget the meeting ever happened when leaving the room.
- Follow-up – send notes outlining any important decisions made and list of action items as a reminder for participants on what needs to be done. “Team, as we agreed we meet today at 11:00 in the restaurant and will get a chicken with rice.” You may want to get feedback from participants on how to improve future meetings.
Obviously not every meeting needs to follow this outline but the standard ones focused on sharing important information and making decisions should. For those coming from software development world you may want to consider adapting a concept from SCRUM called daily stand-up meeting also to activities not directly related to writing software. In this meeting the participants meet for no more than fifteen minutes to discuss briefly the work done, the work ahead, and the obstacles to remove. Participants do it while standing to force everyone to be brief in his or her input. It is very organized and focused event. When done regularly and the right way it brings enormous value to the team without wasting too much time.
Twitter type summary: “Meeting without goal, agenda, good preparation, focus, list of action items and follow-up is called coffee break.”
How do you run your meetings? Or did you found a way to get rid of them altogether?