It is a truth universally acknowledged that everyone hates meetings – except for the person who calls for one. The internet is awash in articles about how much time companies waste on pointless, meandering, endless meetings that eat time when people want to be working on something else – anything else.
But the fact remains: it is in meetings that cultures are formed, values expressed, and companies grown.
Great meetings strengthen relationships, use time effectively, increase innovation and creativity, foster a willingness to contribute, enable work to get done in a timely manner, implement well thought out decisions and improve performance.
Why do so many meetings fail? Here are some of the most obvious reasons:
- There’s a lack of planning and preparation
2. The agenda is unclear or undefined
4. The right people aren’t present
5. There’s a lack of direction during discussions
6. They start late and they run overtime
7. No decisions are reached.
There are a very limited number of legitimate reasons for calling a meeting. They should only be called to communicate information that needs to be discussed, to explore an issue or a problem from multiple perspectives, to brainstorm, or to make decisions that require input from others.
Meetings should never be called simply because “It’s Tuesday, and we always have a meeting on Tuesday”, or “Hey, it’s status update day!”. Nor should meetings be called because you don’t know what else to do on a given day: other people have plenty on their plates. Likewise, calling a meeting without giving participants time to prepare for it is an exercise in futility: your attendees won’t have anything useful to contribute and the whole endeavor will be a waste of time.
How to ensure a successful – perhaps even great – meeting
Once you’re certain that your reason for calling a meeting is both important and beneficial to all involved parties, carefully plan what needs to happen:
- Clearly define the purpose of the meeting, the desired results, the topics to be discussed, the time needed for each topic, who needs to be there, the duration of the meeting and its location.
• Take care of logistics (room set up, equipment, supplies, refreshments, etc.)
• Send out the agenda and any pre-work that needs to be done well in advance.
During your meeting, manage every phase of it, from beginning to end – and even afterwards:
- At the beginning: Review the meeting’s purpose, outcomes, agenda and end time. Ask for revisions then finalize the agenda, priority order and time frames for each topic. Basically, make sure that everyone’s on the same page.
- During the meeting: Avoid meandering discussions by keeping the group focused on the topic being discussed. Make sure that all participants have a chance to ask questions and share their different perspectives. Periodically summarize what has been said. When a decision is needed, make sure everyone knows how it will be made (e.g. majority vote, consensus, etc.) Check for understanding and agreement before moving to the next topic.
- At the end of the meeting: Summarize any agreements and decisions which have been made. Agree on an action plan (who, what, when). Identify any issues to explore further, and specify by whom, and by when. Generate agenda items for the next meeting and schedule the date, time and place.
- After the meeting: Be sure to follow through to get the best results. Communicate the meeting’s minutes to participants in a timely manner. And keep track of progress on the next steps agreed upon during the meeting.
The awful truth is that you can’t make people “love” meetings, but by organizing them ahead of time, structuring them well, and respecting the agenda, the duration of the meeting, and the input you receive from every participant, you can ensure that they’re effective, productive, and stimulating.