Do you spend a lot of your working week in meetings? Did you ever left a meeting thinking ‘oh, I wish I just stayed at my desk finishing some work’? Well you are not alone. Meetings are the most used tool in organisations globally to communicate and collaborate, yet plenty of professionals have the daily dilemma of lots of meetings to attend to. In today’s global environment and virtual teams, meetings are hoped to bring people together and collaborate more. The reality is that they tend to waste a lot more time than any one wishes for.
Before you read on to get tips on how to run effective meetings, here is something for you to consider:
Open your calendar for the last month. Check each meeting you attended and list down how many colleagues where in these meetings.
Now make an uneducated guess and allocate a price tag to each team member. For the ease of this exercise, go ahead and allocate an average of £50 per individual (or any currency you wish to work with). Now add up all the figures.
What figure did you get? Yes, this is the total cost to the business of all the meetings that have taken place last month.
Now ask yourself a very honest question:
Were all these meetings really productive and bring value that is worth this £xxxx amount?
It is interesting that whenever we put a monetary value to something, we start looking at it differently. And if you are a Project Manager, a Quality Manager, or any professional who wants to progress in their career, looking at the financial value of a process and its impact is a good starting point.
Now let’s go back to the three tips to follow to ensure you have a meeting with value. If you have read my previous posts, you would have identified by now that my brain functions well in a process approach. Hence, a three step process to help break down these tips.
1. Preparing for your meeting:
- Identify the reason you are calling for a meeting: basically ask yourself WHY am I calling for a meeting. In some cases, meeting leads schedule a meeting because they want to share information. While this is needed at times, meetings are not the only medium to share information. Try and use meetings for an environment of collaboration, a medium where you want 2 people or more to engage in ideas, decisions and discussions. If it is a one way conversation, then perhaps, meeting is not needed.
- Identify the information you will be presenting or sharing: Have you attended meetings which have no agendas shared in advance? If you did (or still do), try reflecting on how you felt at the end of these meetings. Would you consider them all to be very successful and productive? If you do, please share your secret!
- Set a meeting agenda – I am always a fan of 3! 3 agenda items or five at max. More than that, it you run at a risk at either running over, or concluding the meeting without covering all your times. Either situation leaves an unpleasant taste
- Allocate time per each agenda item
- Allocate an owner of each agenda item
I find that ASANA is an excellent tool to collaborate between teams and get your agenda up and running well in advance.
Setting an agenda item is not used for cosmetic reason. It is intended to keep all participants focused. This enables you the meeting lead to clearly determine if a conversation is going off topic and confidently steer it back to agenda items. Be prepared to be in control of YOUR meeting. If someone took the conversation off topic or outside agenda items, make sure you capture that in the parking lot and agree on an action item to follow up on it after the meeting
- Identify all attendees and check your attendees’ availability
- Include a meeting subject
- Attach the meeting agenda
- For virtual meetings, try and use a video conference facility. Technology is way advanced today and there are plenty of solutions like Microsoft Teams, Zoom, GoToMeeting or even WhatsApp if you use it for business.
Bonus Tip: Remember, people respond better to visuals. Bring visuals with you where suitable.
2. Running your meeting:
Running meetings, whether in person or virtually, should be an engaging tool for the meeting lead and all participants. But putting an audience in-front of you for a meeting and have them listening to information and data for one hour would be a monotonous task and could lose everyone’s attention.
A study defined ‘Language’ under four elements that are key to be considered while working in a multi lingual environment. People response to language used based on their ability to speak, to understand what is being said, to write it and to read it. Figure 1.0 shows all these 4 elements. This is something really important to consider because people respond to language in various ways. Working in an international organisation and dealing with colleagues in the US was a great learning that helped me understand that while the language is English, there are certain phrases used at one side of the pond sound very out of place to the other side.
Implicit in nearly all the reports, publications, columns and blogs about collaboration is that there is a consistent business culture, employees are co-located and employees all speak, read and write a common language to a common standard (White, 2014)
You can always keep your audience attentive by maximising on all these four elements. If you want to learn how to keep your audience engaged, you can check my previous post ‘How to Win Your Audience‘
- Take notes during the meeting and highlight all action items
- Assign an owner to each action item
- Agree on a deadline for each action item
At the end of your meeting, make sure you summarise your meeting with all the action items that came up during the meeting. This always provides a good sense of conclusion and clarity to everyone.
Bonus Tip: If your meeting has virtual teams participating, try and limit your time to 25min for a 30min meeting, or a 50min for a 60min meeting. This will allow you and other members to prepare for the following calendar item they have.
3. Following up after your meeting:
I personally always question meetings that concluded with no action items. Sometimes a personal action item out of the information received would suffice. But no action at all?
When your meeting is done, don’t sit on the meeting notes and action items. Make sure they are sent same day. This is not a call to capture notes as they do in a court room. This is for your to make sure that since the information is still fresh and clear, top level notes with a list of action items, their assignees, and deadlines.
- By capturing and sharing the action items efficiently, this allows you to follow up with all respective parties in timely manner on the progress of their work. This also would give you a great insight on what is coming up next, what agenda you might need for the following meeting with the same group and the same audience
- If there is another meeting to be set up, always send the participants an agenda and a status of the action items from the first meeting 2 days in advance. In busy project environments, this tends to allow people to come prepared and again, focused on key things for your meeting
What is your experience with meetings? Do you have any tips you can share that helped you make your meetings more valuable and effective?
White, M. (2014) ‘The management of virtual teams and virtual meetings’, Business Information Review, 31(2), pp. 111–117. doi: 10.1177/0266382114540979