Meetings can and should be a compelling experience within your company. Yet, how many times have you walked out of a meeting feeling energized… inspired… or ready to take action? These are musts if your meetings are functioning as they should. If you're not getting what you want out of your meetings, change them… now! The stakes are high. Every hour you waste in another boring or useless meeting is one you will never get back. Do something about it. First, stop going around the table updating everyone on what everyone else is doing. Or any other one-way activity that people could learn about on their own schedule. This type of activity should be struck from being part of any meeting. What should be part of meeting time? Anything that leads to action, an outcome or decision is time well spent. Here's what else you can do to increase your effectiveness:
Meet only when there's an expected outcome.
If someone suggests a meeting, ask why you need one. If they can't answer it, don't let them back you into a meeting room. Resist. Clearly define the outcome of the meeting – the decision or action expected. Sharing what each of you is doing alone is dangerous unless each person is equally impacted by all the others at the meeting – and this is hardly ever true. Instead, stand up for five minutes a day to do this sharing in a quick meeting so it doesn't go on too long. Or, individuals should make a quick phone call to those who are impacted on important issues. Some of your colleagues will be impacted by some issues whereas others will not. So, don't waste the whole team's time with an update that may or may not be relevant to several people in the room. If people insist on everyone knowing what everyone else is doing, send them a summary – but keep it short. Three lines ought to do it. This shouldn't be too onerous for everyone to send via email to a common site and keep updated.
Invite only the people you need and want at the meeting.
The meeting agenda will determine who needs to attend so keep it focused. People who will not add value shouldn't be there. They'll think they need to talk and, each person talking takes more time. Don't risk it. Rarely are more than five people ever justified at a meeting. If you have more in your team, try smaller portions of the team for some decisions. Gain agreement on the team members who will represent the team for action in various areas to gain speed. Then, bring the larger team in at key points to keep them updated and aligned. Remember, different members of the team are tasked with different important areas so they do not need to be involved equally with everything.
Put a time limit on the meeting and have a strong Chair create an excellent meeting process.
This includes clarifying the agenda, defining who needs to be at the meeting, the meeting objectives and any required preparation. Start on time and ensure the meeting kicks into high gear right away, so any latecomers might as well not show up. With actions following each decision and clear outcomes from every meeting, your meetings will be very interesting. And, preparation will be important for participants if they want to influence decision making. Without solid arguments and a prepared case, someone else is more likely to win the day. With this type of meeting, participants are highly engaged. And, anyone who isn't may not be invited back!
Meetings only get better if they are debriefed and actions followed up on.
Great Chairs should facilitate both as well as check in on their own level of effectiveness in their role and adjust accordingly.
Dr. Shawna O'Grady
Shawna O'Grady, Ph.D., is an award-winning Professor at the Queen's School of Business and well-known for her effective approach to building teams and high trust cultures. Shawna consults widely in the areas of human performance, team development, and organizational development. She is co-author of the best-selling book Border Crossings: Doing Business in the U.S. about Canadian and U.S. retailers' successes and failures entering each other's market. She also teaches at Cornell University, and is a regular speaker on the Queen's Executive Development Programs.