11 steps to more effective meetings

It’s hard to find anyone who would say that they love meetings. In fact, most people would probably say the opposite.

Ask a colleague what they think about meetings and you’ll probably hear a combination of: they start late, they run long, there’s no purpose, there’s no outcome, the information is irrelevant, I could have been getting important work done, they are a waste of my time.

Our experience of meetings is fairly negative, to say the least. Despite all this, meetings are and probably always will be an essential part of doing business. We need them.

That said, we can either sit back, continue to attend crappy meetings and wait for things to change miraculously, or we can be leaders, introduce new ways of doing things and influence the meeting culture ourselves.

If that sounds like you. If that sounds like something you want to do, here are a few guidelines to help you change the meeting culture in your workplace.

1. Avoid unnecessary meetings

Before scheduling a meeting, ask yourself: is a meeting really necessary? Maybe you can just chat with a few colleagues individually. Maybe you can send an email or a weekly newsletter. Maybe you can ask your team for a report. Maybe you can communicate your message in any other way. Avoiding unnecessary meetings is the first step to building a new and more productive meeting culture.

2. Think hard about who needs to be in the room

Before sending out your meeting invites, ask yourself if every invitee will get value out of attending your meeting. If not, leave them off the invite list and give them an update later if they need it. If you ensure that only the right people are in the room, your meetings will be more engaging and achieve more.

3. Always use an agenda

Before scheduling a meeting, develop an agenda that includes a start time, finish time, the meeting’s purpose and a list of topics for discussion. Include this agenda in the meeting invite, or send it out as early as possible before the meeting. The more time people have to prepare for your meeting, the more productive it will be.

4. Start on time, no matter what!

All meetings need to start on time. Even if not every attendee has arrived or called-in and even if the person who has not arrived or called-in is the boss. This will be a shock for people at first but they’ll quickly learn to be on time when you’re holding a meeting. Starting on time means you’re more likely to get through all the items on your agenda and finish on time.

5. Every meeting needs a chair person

If you schedule the meeting, you lead the meeting. If you don’t want to lead, nominate someone else to lead. Every meeting needs a chair. A chair person’s job is to keep people on topic and on time, so make sure whoever is sitting in that seat has the confidence to wrangle the group back on topic, to close out items in the interest of time and to ask for a prompt decision to be made.

6. Keep to the agenda

If it’s not on the agenda, don’t discuss it. All other topics can be discussed off-line or at a future meeting unless there is majority agreement that the topic should be added to the agenda for immediate discussion. If this is the case, there also needs to be majority agreement to drop an existing topic off the agenda and discuss it off-line or at a future meeting. Keep a list of topics for discussion either off-line or at future meetings and make sure you follow up.

7. Kick people out of your meetings

Not everyone needs to be in the room for the entire meeting. Give people the option to stay or leave once the topic that concerns them has been discussed or if no other topics on the agenda will bring them value. Allowing people to leave once their need is satisfied means they can get back to doing work that matters.

8. Don’t keep minutes, create actions

Forget about keeping minutes. No one needs a play-by-play of what was said and by whom. No one really reads them anyway. Instead, keep and distribute a list of action items. For each action item, include a deadline and allocate a single person who is responsible for the task’s completion.

9. Leave phones & laptops at the door

Unless you need a laptop or phone to make the meeting more effective ie. you need access to information relevant to the meeting topic or you’re giving a presentation, phones and laptops are nothing more than distractions. Keeping people focused on the task at hand is key to facilitating a productive meeting with great outcomes that finishes on time.

10. Finish on time, no matter what!

One of the biggest complaints about meetings is that they often run late. No one wants to get out of a meeting late. Out of respect for the people in the room, who only have a limited amount of time in their day and lots of important work to do, do what ever you need to do to finish on time. People will really appreciate it.

All the steps above are geared toward getting you and your team in and out of your meetings on time while achieving what you set out to achieve. Try to incorporate these principles into your meetings and over time you and your team will be more effective, more productive, make better decisions and meeting-dread is sure to dissipate.

Did you enjoy this article? Was it helpful? If so, you’ll probably like The Monthly Review. It’s a curated email newsletter that I send out once per month with the best articles, stories and resources from around the web that help you to be a better leader. It’s free, there’s no spam and no bullshit. Just click here to sign up.

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