Make your meetings more productive
Was the first formal meeting held around a campfire in the African Savannahs to decide the homo sapiens’s relocation policy? Probably. We have progressed from this first imaginary meeting to research from a European survey of 2,000 employees in the UK, France and Germany which found the typical staff member spends a total of 187 hours – or the equivalent of 23 days a year – in meetings, 56% of those meetings being generally “unproductive”.
Nevertheless, it seems that we do want our meetings to be useful – Google “meeting skills” results 10.5 million options; Google “mankinds greatest achievements” results 2.1 million options. Our homo sapiens meeting was very productive and wonder if these were the sorts of things that helped?
Set an agenda so everyone knows the main issues to be discussed and resolved at the meeting.
- What sort of meeting is it? To communicate a decision and information; to engage in decision making; regular update meeting?
- What needs to be achieved? Take time with all the participants in advance to sort out the tangible meeting outcomes, exploring best and least acceptable.
- Who needs to be invited? Try for 5 people who are vital to the issue in question, or even fewer. Having fewer attendees will also help to keep your meetings short, plus there’s less chance they will overrun.
- What are the main issues that need to be discussed and does everyone know?
- What can be sent in advance to give participants time to prepare, engage and contribute?
- How long does the meeting need to be? Do you really need 60 minutes? By reducing the length of your meetings to 30 minutes or less could mean people will be more focused and there may be less time wasting.
Be an active chair to ensure the outcomes are achieved.
- Order the agenda with an easy item first and then tackle the most important item next.
- State the purpose, agenda, timings and expected outcomes at the beginning.
- Tackle and focus on the issues.
- Involve everyone and actively acknowledge contributions.
- Interject when discussion goes off track. Control the pace / direction of the discussion to ensure appropriate depth and breadth. Use sign posts.
- Use open questions to test people’s understanding. Play back what someone is saying to clarify points.
- Use flipchart to note options / key points / agreements for all to see. Delegate this to someone else in the group if you do not want to do yourself.
- Stick to a schedule / agenda and finish on time. Wrap up with a clear statement of main points / record of next steps and who is to take them and when you will meet again to review.
Be an active participant
- Be prepared – read the agenda and any other papers in advance of the meeting.
- Get to the issues quickly – state the problem, decisions to be made, possible solutions and next steps.
- Support and build on others comments, if a good idea is suggested actively add your support. Do not be a meeting saboteur.
- Put effort into gaining buy-in to your ideas and solutions.
- If not getting buy-in, let it go – there comes a point when you need to let go of your idea if nobody is supportive. Do this gracefully and be seen to move on.
- Listen, ask probing questions and make sure you and others understand what has been agreed.
Make sure actions are clear, participants know their responsibilities and that you actively follow up on progress.
- Send out notes of the meeting within a realistic timescale so that participants remember the main points.
- Adapt the notes to suit the meeting. Most notes can be summarised in agenda item, key points made, decision and then actions.
- Follow up on the actions to monitor progress. Help out if needed.