I like going to meetings.
I said this to a friend over coffee the other morning.
We looked at each other for a few seconds, flat whites poised mid-air. Really?
As we resumed our coffee drinking and chatted about this revelation, I realised that since I started my own business a few years ago my feelings about meetings have changed. Why? Because the types of meetings I go to have changed.
Having spent the majority of my career working for large, global organisations I’ve clocked up thousands of hours attending meetings, in a myriad of locations, both face-to-face and virtually, over the years. On reflection a large percentage of these were internal meetings; frequently without a clear purpose and often unproductive or even unnecessary.
These days I don’t attend as many meetings, and the ones I do feel more purposeful.
These meetings and conference calls are with clients and prospects, on committees I care about, and as a bilateral avenue to share knowledge with others in (and outside of) my industry.
I’m not saying there is no need for internal meetings, they’re necessary to discuss ideas, resolve issues, design new approaches, make collaborative decisions and drive outcomes. And they can save time and reduce that other productivity killer – email overload. However, there are many internal meetings going on every day that really are a waste of everyone’s time.
Excessive meetings result in a trade-off when it comes to doing individual work. If you, or your team are in meetings all day then there is naturally less time to focus your creative energy on say, writing that brilliant proposal, fine-tuning that awesome new PR campaign or tweaking your implementation processes.
Too many meetings breaking up your day also makes it harder to get into the zone, or flow – that state where we generally do our best work.
So, to clarify for my coffee companion – I like going to good meetings.
Then what makes a good meeting? In my experience there are four key elements:
- They have a clear purpose,
- They get the right people in the room,
- They follow some ground rules, and
- They achieve the objective.
Before scheduling a meeting, think about the purpose. Start with the outcome in mind. What do you expect to get out of the meeting? Do you need a meeting to get that outcome?
Is the meeting necessary for group collaboration, multiple perspectives, brainstorming, making decisions that require multiple points of view and discussion or communicating complex information?
Or could a meeting be replaced with a quick chat (face to face, phone, Slack or otherwise) or a simple email exchange?
Are you looking for input, or telling people what to do?
Imagine you’re a manager with a new procedure to introduce to your team. The outcome you want is for your team to start following this new procedure next Monday. If it’s straightforward, clear instructions in an email may suffice. If it’s complicated and/or controversial, a meeting may be needed to explain in detail, work through any challenges and ensure everyone is onboard before Monday.
A good meeting starts with everyone being clear on the purpose – whether that’s with a formal agenda sent out beforehand, a couple of lines in the meeting invite or an explanation whilst you’re all grabbing your mid-morning coffee – whatever works as long as everyone understands the reason for the meeting and expected outcome.
How often have you been invited to a meeting with no idea what the meeting is for? If it’s not a career limiting move, start declining meeting invites that don’t come with an explanation. Or at least, start asking for more information before accepting.
Which leads to the next point, should you even be attending?
In a good meeting, everyone in the room (real or virtual) has a role to play. Some roles may be more vocal than others; key decision makers, subject matter experts, those sharing skills, knowledge or information, others may be there to learn or gather information to be shared with others. Everyone should have a role, and each person should be clear on what their role is – what are they expected to bring to, or take away, from the meeting?
Bad meetings can be the equivalent of the email CC All – inviting people to keep them in the loop. No one likes, or has time to be the bystander in the room. It’s boring (meeting bingo anyone?), and often stressful when you’ve got a pile of work back at your desk.
If you need to keep people in the loop – send minutes.
Be mindful of people’s time, which brings me to the third element of a good meeting – guidelines. The type and amount of structure needed will depend on how formal the meeting is, however at a minimum it should start on time, focus on the objectives, finish on time and have someone leading it.
Some guideline suggestions include:
- Be clear on any preparation that is required by attendees beforehand. And give them enough time to complete it.
- Start on time, finish on time. Set a rule that meetings will start on time and time won’t be spent recapping for late-comers – rewarding those that arrive on time, rather than encouraging those that are late.
- If time is running out and decisions are still required, consider whether you will; run over (majority vote), re-convene, assign a sub-committee? Ensure all items not dealt with are captured on an issue list or action log.
- One person runs the meeting.
- Delegate a record keeper for notes and minutes, assign an owner to each action item and record all decisions and next steps. Summarise these at the close of the meeting.
- Etiquette – set these at the beginning of the meeting based on your company culture and style – such as phones on silent/no phones in room/no laptops, food allowed/no food allowed/only water/coffee allowed. For conference calls, phones on mute when not talking.
- One voice, and one idea, at a time.
- Give everyone an opportunity to speak.
These last two points are particularly important when it comes to conference calls, or hybrid meetings where some people are in the room and others are attending virtually (phone or video). Nothing is more frustrating that sitting on the phone listening to cacophony of people in a room all talking over the top of each other. Listening to this late in the evening on a call that was “vital you attend” – maddening.
And finally, a few brain-based tips:
- When facilitating a meeting with a mix of face to face and virtual participants be aware of the brain’s hidden “distance bias” – the tendency to favour people who are closer to us in time and space. Are you giving the people on the phone enough speaking time? Are you giving as much weight to what they have to say as you are to those in the room?
- When arranging meetings, be aware that to make good decisions our brain needs to be at its optimum, with the pre-frontal cortex functioning well. For example, if you’re scheduling a meeting where you need a lot of creative input, don’t schedule it to run through the usual lunch hour (without providing food) and expect everyone in the room to be fully focused and contributing.
- As noted earlier, meetings can eat into valuable creative time. Take control of how meetings fit into your day, start blocking out time in your diary for creative work. If you know that you’re at your most creative at 9.00 am – 11.00 am on a Wednesday, block this time in your calendar each week, before someone fills up that time with a meeting.
The very best meetings are the ones that accomplish the purpose they set out to achieve, and if that’s done with everyone feeling involved, valued and heard, and feeling that it was a good use of their time, then that’s a great meeting indeed.
Are you looking at ways to have better interactions with your clients and prospects, build stronger relationships, deliver greater value and build on your team’s account management skills? Or, are you looking for coaching for yourself or your team to facilitate positive change through improved thinking? If so, contact me for a confidential conversation about how I can help.
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