Meetings. The mere word provokes a sensation of resignation. And still: we have them. Every day. In this post, I will give you simple straight forward tips how to run effective meetings. Beware: a lot of things required to achieve successful meetings must be done BEFORE it takes place!
6 things to do BEFORE effective meetings
If you stick to the following 6 recommendations, you should be pretty well set up for an effective team meeting. As long as you are radical enough to apply them rigorously. Really! I mean it. The more radical you are, the less painful the meeting will be. The laxer you apply them, the more inefficient the business meeting becomes.
1. Is the meeting necessary?
Though it should be an obvious question, reality suggests that it is not: before sending out a meeting request, ask yourself if you really need the meeting. A lot of business meetings just shouldn’t take place. The topics should be resolved by quick stand ups or brief four eyes conversations. E.g. if you need someone to take a decision, just walk to the person’s desk and address the topic right away. That’s it. No need for a meeting.
2. No clear purpose, no meeting
If you cannot define the purpose of a meeting, you shouldn’t have it. Having a clear expected outcome sets the context for effective meetings.
3. No unnecessary attendees
Don’t invite people who shouldn’t be there. Make sure everyone in the meeting room is relevant. Any “just in case” attendee is going to lose time, and add inefficiencies to the meeting. In case of doubt, have a quick chat with the person in question. A good rule of thumb for efficient meetings is to have a maximum of 7 participants.
4. No agenda, no meeting
With the goal and the attendees in mind, draw a clear meeting schedule. Include any relevant material or instructions for the attendees in the meeting request.
5. Chose the right duration
Book the right time to achieve the meeting’s goal. Keep the meeting as short as possible. Tight schedules help people focus on the goal and the essentials. Effective meetings don’t need to last an hour, 25 minutes might be just enough. Think of scrum daily standup meetings: they are short, focus on 3 questions, and achieve a full team update within 10 minutes.
6. No preparation, no meeting
Both as attendee and organiser make sure you are prepared. If you attend a meeting without having prepared for it, you will lose your time and the time of the other attendees.
7 meeting rules DURING effective meetings
Any meeting should have clear agreements on how the attendees want to run the meeting. Optional for spontaneous one-time meetings, it is a must for teams that meet on a regular basis. We call these agreements the meeting/team alliance, a list of all principles everybody buys into. Write them down on a flip chart or the whiteboard, so they are visible during the team meeting. Add anything your team needs in order to have efficient meetings. Below you will find some items I strongly recommend to be included:
7. Be on time: Start on time and end early
Consider your own calendar. How often do you have colliding meetings without a buffer in-between? It’s very likely that all attendees have similar schedules. Thus, make sure to start on time. And finish latest at the announced time, or before. Putting this agreement in place has 2 positive side-effects on the long run: people will show up in time, and stick to the agenda and focus on the expected outcome of the meeting.
8. No devices
You are right, we live in a digital world. So why shouldn’t you write down your notes on a tablet? – Because when you look at your device, you disconnect from the people in the room and the exchange that is taking place. Plus, you are very likely going to be distracted by a notification, an urgent email or recent updates on your Slack stream. (If you want to be a little less radical, put your device into flight mode before joining the meeting).
9. No ego
There are a lot of reasons why meetings can get out of control and turn into boring, slow, unproductive chewing gum experiences. Even with a fair conductor and a proper setup, a meeting can still tip over. Usually ego can spoil meetings, even with the best setup. To make sure this doesn’t happen, put “No ego” on the meeting alliance, and make sure everybody in the room is co-responsible to reveal it when it pops up.
10. Listen actively – don’t interrupt
The most powerful antidote against ego is active listening. Real active listening, and staying tuned. In the end, meeting fundamentally is about listening and being listened in order to get somewhere, right? Initially active listening doesn’t come easy, but you can train it: Observe yourself during the meeting. When you realise that instead of listing you are thinking e.g. how to reply to what is being said, turn your attention back to the person that is speaking. You can start building the habit in a team using a ball that gives the right to speak. The participant who has the ball is the only person allowed to speak, and decides when he/she passes the ball to the next contributor. With this tool and the attention of the meeting’s chair, you can make sure all attendees participate and no one dominates the meeting.
11. Stick to the agenda and use a “Parking Lot”
People expect an outcome and are prepared for the topic of the meeting. Not for other topics. So, stick to the agenda. Use a Parking Lot, a simple list on a flip chart or the whiteboard where you can write down and park important topics that pop up during the meeting. This way the new topics don’t get lost, and you can keep the focus.
12. Recap decisions and action items
Write down decisions and actions along the meeting, put a due date and the name of the responsible person on each item, and recap the agreements at the end of the meeting.
Two actions AFTER productive meetings
To close effective meetings, you need to do two things after it ends: (13.) send the memo with the decisions and action items with due dates and responsible person to all attendees right after the meeting. And (14.) follow up when indicated.
In order to help you put these tips in place easily, I prepared this infographic with these 14 tips how to run effective meetings that you can save, share with your team mates or circulate to whoever you need to convert your current ineffective meetings into effective meetings. If you are interested in digging deeper into the realm of business meeting agendas, team meeting rules and successful meeting guidelines, check this NYTimes article.