“Is this really necessary?”
This is probably one of the most common questions inside your teammates’ minds whenever they receive a meeting request email. And for a good reason. In fact, according to this article from the muse, middle managers spend 35% of their time in meetings. Upper management can go even further at 50%. All for something that they consider a failure 67% of the time. Effective meetings are worth the time, but you need to make sure yours are.
Time is, of course, the number one resource of any organization, businesses or nonprofits alike. Unproductive meetings are therefore very costly. Unnecessary meetings even more so.
But the fact remains that most organizations are built around meetings. Businesses will not get things done unless they communicate and delegate tasks to groups and individuals. There are some things that you can’t just do over the phone or through email. Sitting down face-to-face and discussing workplace issues and strategies, asking questions, offering suggestions and rebuttals, and asking for feedback is still one of the most effective ways to make well-informed decisions.
The key then to productive meetings is to ensure that the result of the meeting outweighs the cost of time it took to conduct the meeting. How do we achieve this?
1. Determine if a meeting is actually necessary.
Many organizations have weekly meetings. Most of these meetings are what we call “status update” meetings where staff members talk about where they are currently on the tasks they are doing. These aren’t wrong per se. However, they do take a lot of time not only from the organization but from each of the members of the meeting. Remember, if six people attend a meeting and update with each other with 10-minute talks, that is one hour of cost per person and almost a day’s worth of productivity for the organization. That doesn’t even add the time it takes to prepare the update for each individual.
While I can’t say when a meeting is necessary for your organization since it is on a case-by-case basis, I do know some issues that need to be talked about in a meeting. Issues like an organizational restructure or shifting the approach of the organization moving forward needs to be discussed thoroughly. For all other issues, think about this and the rest of the points in this post to determine if you are holding truly effective meetings.
2. Invite only the people that need to be there.
I think this is quite a huge problem for most organizations. More often than not, people who may not be relevant to the meeting are invited out of courtesy. A good manager can lend their expertise and can be a good source of information. A micromanaging boss can be a time-waster when they start nitpicking to justify their inclusion. Consider inviting only the people who can be a part of the solution and who can benefit from it.
3. Assign roles and responsibilities.
A meeting should work within a stable framework that would enable it to flow smoothly and maximize the contributions of each member of the meeting. Aside from the facilitator of the meeting, there should be a note-taker, a time-keeper, and an expeditor. The note-taker should write the significant points raised in the meeting on a laptop or notepad, and should be required to create a summary that could be sent to the members of the meeting as well as the people who need to be informed of the meeting (e.g. managers, latecomers). The timekeeper should enforce the schedule and manage the time it takes for each objective. The expeditor should enforce and keep track of the responsibilities assigned and collect feedback.
Participants should be aware of how the meeting will be conducted by the facilitator. Additionally, the relevant documents that will be discussed in the meeting, should be sent to all. Each member of the meeting should be responsible enough to read them ahead to save time. To be the most effective, meetings should be reserved for discussions, not presentations.
4. Set the ground rules.
All participants should know the ground rules of the meeting. There are a lot of rules that can be enforced, depending on your preferences. Always start and end on time. Most productive meetings are short. Attention spans usually waver after 45 minutes. Do not allow latecomers since they usually disrupt the flow of the meeting. It is also a big hassle to update them on what was talked about before they came in. Put a ban on electronic devices such as laptops and phones unless they are needed for the meeting. They usually serve as nothing but distraction for your participants.
5. List the objectives of the meeting.
Listing the goals of your meeting will give your discussion the direction it needs to be productive. Make sure to include the agenda of your meeting in your email to give your participants ample time to gather their ideas and contribute. Create a clear outline of the main objectives and their related topics that you need to discuss. As much as possible, stick to your agenda. If the discussion veers off-topic, keep your current meeting effective by setting another meeting that will address said topic.
6. Monitor the discussion and encourage participation.
Like any type of social contact, differences in personalities will show among your participants. Those with dominant and extroverted personalities can and will inadvertently take charge of the meeting and leave the shy and introverted ones behind. We do not want this. As such, always encourage contributions from everyone for an effective meeting. Ask each participant for comments and feedback. Let each speaker ask a question and explain their reasoning behind their statements. Finally, thank everyone sincerely regardless of what the value of their contribution is.
7. Summarize and debrief your participants.
At the end of the meeting, you should conclude with the decision of the group on particular issues and a summary of each action item and the person responsible for it. As much as possible, confirm the time it will take for each action item.
8. Follow up with your participants to ensure effective meetings every time.
As I mentioned already, you should have a written summary of the points discussed in the meeting. This should be distributed to all relevant parties, not only those who attend the meeting but also the interested parties who were late or who failed to attend the meeting. Aside from that, you should also gather feedback on the meeting itself. Comments and suggestions on how the meeting was conducted, as well as feelings on the facilitators, should be addressed. The facilitator should also give feedback individually, especially on how each participant contributed in the meeting. There should always be room for improvement.
Do you have personal tips or rules that you follow during meetings? Tell me in the comments below.