It’s not uncommon to hear employees complain about the time they spend in meetings. Quite often, meetings in organizations are poorly planned, poorly managed, unproductive and unnecessary.
With a handful of basic ground rules and a dose of discipline to implement a few structured processes, meetings can be places where creativity flows, timely decisions are made, energy is generated and talents are harnessed. It’s even possible that more can be achieved in less time and employees actually look forward to meetings… yes! Imagine how satisfying that would be!
Here are four of my top tips for managing meetings effectively:
Consider whether a meeting, either physical, or virtual, is the best way to achieve your outcome.
Ask yourself, “Do I want to know what people think or feel?”; “Do I want to hear what they have to say?”; “Do I want some interaction?”
Don’t be tempted to use a meeting to download information. It’s an expensive waste of resources. If the answer to these questions is “no,” then consider how else this information can be communicated, e.g. by email.
Prepare an agenda, using positively focussed questions.
Consider your outcome for that topic — what do you want to achieve?
Do you want to generate ideas for solving a specific problem? Do you need to know what’s going well? Do you want a status update on a particular project?
For example, instead of the headline, “Sales figures for last month,” use “How can we generate more business?” Instead of “Marketing campaign for product X,” use “What do you like best about our new promotion?”
Issue the agenda, with any supporting information for reading, about a week in advance. As recipients read over the papers, their brain will start to process the questions. Time will be saved at the meeting as people are more focussed and prepared.
Use systematic rounds before open discussion and have a rule of “no interrupting.”
This is where some discipline is required. Invite everyone, in turn, to speak to the agenda question. Set some boundaries to encourage people to be concise in their exchanges in return for not being interrupted. For example, “Please take three minutes each to summarize your top three successes from this week.”
Break the group into pairs for focussed thinking on a particular question.
It can be helpful to ask a group to think together in pairs about a specific point under discussion. Request that the dialogue is an equal exchange of thoughts, back and forth between partners, within the time allowed, with no interruptions. Bring the group back together after a few minutes and conduct a round, asking for one key idea from everyone as a result of their thinking time.
These basic yet effective processes will appeal to both introverts (people who prefer quiet thinking and planning time) and extraverts (people who like to talk and interact as they think). So you’ll get more from everyone and, as the group get practiced running meetings this way, better decisions will be made in less time.
Hazel Morley is principal of Think Smart: Training and Coaching with Change in Mind. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.