• Tracy Hart

My Top Tips For Making Your Meetings Better Than Not Having One….

Understanding how to run time efficient and effective meetings is one of the most crucial skills Leaders and in fact all employees at all levels need to learn to thrive at work.

MEETING – definition (noun | meet-ig\) – Where everyone talks, no one listens, and later everyone disagrees about what was said.

A successful meeting is not just about sharing an agenda and starting and finishing on time. A meeting is valuable working time, not just a chance to rock up, have a decent coffee and a catch up!

Have you ever been to a meeting where you leave the meeting with more questions than answers or having only covered half the items on the agenda? Those items are never revisited just lost in the ether of overrun meetings. What a huge waste of everybody’s time! We all want to be able to run or attend meetings where we can be productive, work on, or influence the outcome of important things that move our business forward and deliver value to the bottom line.

A study in The Journal of Organizational Behaviour reported that “time-wasting is unacceptable in all other aspects of business life, but in the case of meetings, wasted time seems to be an accepted norm.”

Organising and running successful effective meetings is a key skill that we as Leaders should all have and actively pass on to our employees.

I truly believe that our meetings must be both effective and efficient. By “efficient” I mean that our meeting starts on time, it only has the necessary people in it, we stick to the meeting agenda, it runs to the agreed time and most importantly everyone leaves feeling inspired and that the objectives of the meeting have been met; By an “effective” meeting I mean one that has real purpose and value to the business and that all the elements (including those under “efficient”) and agenda items have been carefully considered. The most important one being that we only bring together those people that are crucial to our meetings purpose and can and are able to participate in such a way that the outcome brings value to the business.

In my career I have sat through some truly painful meetings and wasted many unproductive hours. I have also had the opportunity to try out many different meeting formats and whilst not every meeting is the same, often varying from industry to industry, there are some principals that should never be missed from any meeting.

Here are some “Top Tips” and thoughts on how to have a meeting that's worth having:

The Most Important Question to Ask - Is your meeting essential and really necessary? If your meeting topic doesn’t need interaction or feedback with/from others i.e., you are just planning on sharing information (a one-way interaction!), then using another media such as email, intranet, etc. would be the more time efficient method for everyone.

Do you have a clear purpose for your meeting? Before you even start to write your meeting’s agenda or schedule a date and time, ask your self – “What am I looking to achieve by holding this meeting? Write down concisely what the purpose for the meeting is, what your goals are and what you want the outcomes of the meeting to be.

I find it useful to put this summary at the top of the agenda and in the email I use to invite attendees. This enables those invited to easily consider if they are the right person to attend and act as a reminder at the beginning of the meeting as to why everyone is there and what outcomes are expected.

Always, create at detailed meeting agenda, including times and responsibilities. Don’t be tempted to skip this task or just list out some points and send this out as your agenda! It is crucial that you take some time to consider the order, the person to lead each topic and the time needed to conclude, further discuss if necessary and agree actions.

Start by listing the topic’s to be discussed/considered. Decide who will lead the discussion on each item, and lastly allocate a time slot to each topic. It is important to highlight at this point, that whoever is responsible for putting the agenda together is also the person responsible for facilitating the agenda at the meeting. The facilitator’s job is to open the meeting, remind everyone why they are there, keep everyone focused and working within the allocated times. This may entail jigging people along if they are taking too much of the allocated time or are veering off topic. Lastly, make sure that actions are agreed as you work through the agenda (don’t leave this until the end) and those responsible for the action are aware.

Give careful consideration of who should attend your meeting The next step is crucial to the successful outcome of your meeting, so it is well worth making time to give this considered thought. Make sure you chose attendees that can really contribute to the meeting and its outcomes. Having employee’s sit in un-necessary meetings cost’s a business huge amounts of wasted £££’s. Always try to keep your attendees to as few as possible. Large meetings are costly, but also much harder to control and generally less effective.

If your meeting is strategic then it’s helpful to choose as a diverse a group of attendees as possible (still adhering to the “necessary” rule and minimum number principles) to ensure you get “outside the box” creativethinking. Your best judgment is needed here. As the leader it really is to your advantage to have the absolute best people at the table, as this will up the odds of getting the very best outcome and maximum value for your business.

Send your meeting agenda out in advance Sharing the meeting agenda in advance gives your attendees time to consider the discussion items, prepare in advance if required, gather information to bring along or prepare questions they may have. It also gives them time to come back to you with suggestions for more time on a particular topic, to add a topic to the agenda or the inclusion of another attendee etc. Of course, you do not have to accept all these suggestions, but it is much better to hear them up front, than being side swiped at the meeting for not including someone or something crucial from the agenda or meeting.

Most importantly, sending out an agenda in advance is time efficient, as it allows you to get straight down to business once everyone is in the room. No time wasted catching up because attendees don’t know why they are there.

Once the meeting starts keep your attendees engaged Keeping your attendees engaged is key, its essential that they are not distracted and open to active listening. Some easy ways to do this are:

  • Ensuring your meeting environment is comfortable.

  • Scheduling the meeting at optimal times of high energy, i.e., mid-morning vs the end of the day.

  • Have natural lighting in the meeting room, if possible, if not good bright lighting.

  • Ask your attendees to close laptops unless they are presenting or are the note taker. Getting them to switch off mobile phones.

Although these items have the ability to make us more productive at work, they are also our biggest distractions.

Keep to your meeting contract and always start and end on time Starting and ending your meetings on time sets an example, shows your respect for other people’s time, saves the business lost productivity (which translates into £££’s) and builds your integrity as a Leader. Don’t wait for stragglers. Don’t make a big deal of someone being late, just welcome them and ask them to catch up with you or a colleague at the end of the meeting on what they may have missed. You will only have to do this once or twice before everyone is there ahead of the meeting start time.

Make sure that everyone always stays focused on capturing the value. It can be very easy to take your eye off the prize. Make sure you stay focused, and you keep everyone else doing the same. Also, be mindful of delving into too much detail, this can eat up valuable time and attendees will disengage very quickly. As the facilitator you must decide how much is too much! If the team needs to come to a decision, again as the facilitator you will need to cajole them into getting there in a timely manner. Don’t hold out for a unanimous outcome, remember a majority is good enough and move on.

It is absolutely key to create an inclusive environment Set the tone from the start by creating a safe space where everyone can freely express their thoughts, ideas, and opinions. Attendees need to know that they will not be judged and that their view is more important than their job title or position in the pecking order.

It is important to ensure that everyone gets an opportunity to participate so if you do happen to notice one person is dominating the discussions then politely make them aware. If you have someone that just can’t help themselves no matter how many times you politely pull them up, consider asking them to take the notes. They will need to be in listening mode and it’s almost impossible to talk and listen at the same time, so this should provide opportunities for others to be able to speak up.

Make sure you assign someone to take notes/minutes Do this ahead of the meeting and prior to sending out the agenda if you can. It’s doesn’t need to be the same person every-time, but if you go this route then it’s important that your set the format required for the note taking or use one of the app’s available to do this, such as Microsoft OneNote, Apple Notes, Google Keep or Evernote. Some of these apps also make it easier to share the meeting agenda, discussion points, and the action items with all the attendees.

For some reason people don’t want to do this but it really is a necessary habit to adopt. It demonstrates integrity by serving as a written record of your discussions, decisions and who took responsibility for each of the action points. This will also be helpful for those that were not able to attend but need to stay informed and connected to any discussions of decisions coming out of the meeting. It also holds everyone accountable for what they say, don’t say and commitments they make.

The end is as important and the beginning, so plan how to bring the meeting to an end Leave some time at the end of the agenda to summarise (remind) the meeting attendees, of any decisions made, and any actions agreed, who has responsibility for these and a timeframe to complete them. If you are going to have a different note/minute taker for each meeting, then this is a good time to assign the next one.

Don’t forget when you put your agenda together for your next meeting, if this is a regular one, to allow some time at the beginning of the meeting to do a quick review of actions. Try not to create too many actions, meetings are not the place to dish out to-do lists. If you have more than 6 actions from the previous meeting, then I suggest you find an on-line medium to share and review actions outside of your meetings.

Lastly, remember that meetings don’t have to be long or formal sit-down events to be effective. Often, particularly in fast paced business environments, such as Projects, hospitality etc. they have daily huddles with their teams. These are typically no more than 10/15 minutes long, have a short (not more than 3 topics) fixed agenda’s and often held standing up.

“The longer the meeting, the less is accomplished” - Tim Cook

Wherever possible keep your meetings as brief as possible. Meetings that last longer than an hour should be kept for special topics or strategic planning events, like new year objective setting etc. Any meetings more than an hour and where the agenda stays pretty much the same are difficult to keep attendees engaged or produce productive discussions.

If you follow these steps, you will be running effective, efficient meetings that will have everyone feeling motivated and inspired rather than unfocused and frustrated, in no time at all.

“It has to be an awfully good meeting to beat having no meeting at all” – Boyd K Packer

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