How much time do you spend in meetings? Would you classify the majority of the meetings that you attend as value adding or as a waste of your time? As with almost anything in business, we need to be sure that we are spending our precious time effectively. Any time spent in a meeting, is time that cannot be spent on other (sometimes more value adding) activities.
Step 1 – Do you really need a meeting?
Organisations often get stuck in the rut of multiple recurring meetings that no longer really serve a purpose. Your entire list of recurring meetings should be reconsidered at least once a year. Consider whether they still serve a purpose or should rather be scrapped from the list? Should their length or frequency change?
If your meeting does still serve a purpose, you need to consider whether a meeting is the best way to accomplish that purpose. Meetings should never become a mere ritual. Scheduling a meeting is the appropriate choice if:
- The interaction of opinions is necessary to create an idea, plan or project
- Group dynamics are essential for the accomplishment of the purpose
- Time restrictions limit other options
- The subject is sufficiently complex as to require interaction and explanation
Step 2 – Do your pre-meeting prep
Failing to properly prepare will result in unnecessarily wasting the time of the meeting participants. There are two very important elements to consider when preparing for a meeting – the participants and time.
Carefully consider the list of people you intend to invite. Do they all need to be present? Consider inviting certain participants to only be present at a particular time for the agenda item for which their personal contribution is required. Ensure that the participants are clear on their roles, responsibilities and individual levels of participation. People just showing up with no clear role to play can cause confusion and cause meetings to become unnecessarily long and unproductive.
Step 3 – Plan where, when and why
You are now ready to send out the meeting invitation. The meeting invitation sends an important signal to meeting attendees on what they can expect. When you send out the invitation be clear on what type of meeting you are having; information sharing, detailed discussion or decision making and taking action.
Make sure that you include a strong agenda. An agenda can be a powerful tool, as it provides a mechanism for order and control. Having clear objectives and deliverables communicated in advance informs participants how to prepare and set time limits for their preparation.
Carefully consider the most appropriate location. Will you have it in the boardroom or in the work area? Is the meeting going to be held standing up or sitting down? Certain enclosed areas may be more appropriate to utilise when confidential information will be discussed, whereas meetings in open spaces tend to be completed faster, because other people are watching.
Make it clear that you will not tolerate late comers. By delaying the start of the meeting, you are disrespecting the time of everyone who did put in the effort to arrive on time. If people do not respect their colleagues enough to arrive on time, they should not attend at all. Allowing people to join a meeting whenever it suits them can be very disruptive and implies that no one needs to respect the starting time.
Step 4 – Determine the rules to stick to
It is beneficial to establish some ground rules before the meeting process starts. There should be agreement on how participants will act, relate and resolve conflicts. If no standard code of conduct exists, meetings may become unstructured and counter-productive.
Consider including the following ground rules:
- Respect different views
- Do not make accusations or attempt to assign blame
- Do not interrupt while somebody is presenting
- Everyone must participate constructively
- All cell phones must be switched off during the meeting
- All laptops, except that of the presenter and note taker must remain closed for the duration of the meeting
Step 5 – Execution time
It is important to follow a process when having your meeting.
Once the type of meeting and the topic have been decided, ensure that the participants do not deviate and that they stick to the time available.
Start the process by assigning a chairman and note taker, but make it clear that all participants remain responsible to support these roles. Instead of consistently appointing the same individuals in these roles, consider giving different participants the opportunity to experience this role, by rotating the allocation of the responsibilities between meetings.
During the meeting, make sure that you stick to the agenda and continue to focus on the objectives for the meeting as you move through the agenda items. If this is a recurring meeting, review the last meeting minutes and record feedback on actions that were assigned. Log any new issues raised. Always have actions assigned to individuals as an outcome with an agreed upon targeted completion date.
By continuously improving the effectiveness of your meetings, you will make more time available for you and your colleagues to spend on more rewarding, more value adding and often more enjoyable tasks.