Today’s workplace is rampant with badly designed and facilitated meetings. Whether face-to-face or held via conference call or web cam, the badly designed meeting is a waste of everyone’s time. Even worse is the enervating impact it can have on a chunk of your work day afterwards as well you waste time complaining about the boring and pointless meeting with your co-workers.
Is there a better way?
Meetings can be productive and useful – even invigorating – if they are designed well. A good first move is to step back and consider why you are calling the meeting. Especially for a regular meeting – what is its purpose? Do those who regularly attend the meeting know what the purpose is?
Clarify what your goal is for the meeting. An easy what to define your goal is the complete the sentence, “By the end of the meeting, we will have…” And once you define your goal, if you discover that your primary objective is to deliver information, consider other delivery mechanisms such as an email, memo or a video or audio announcement.
Why did I get invited to this meeting?
Make sure that each person at the meeting can readily answer this question. Given your goal, who needs to be there? Who knows about the topic? Who needs to be consulted or give input? Who will be impacted by what will be discussed? People checking their phones in the middle of your meeting is a good sign that you did not do a good enough job articulating why they needed to be there and what they have to offer.
Let me state the obvious: your meetings include people. Yet when calling a meeting, people often forget the obvious. How do you help the group get to know each other – beyond a rapid fire round of names and titles? How do you help people get grounded and focused on your topic? A check in at the beginning of the meeting helps people connect to each other and to the task at hand. Some facilitators ask the question, ‘what do you need to put aside to be fully present at this meeting?’
Oh I missed that email
Help your meeting participants be prepared to tackle the task at hand. Give them enough time to consider any materials ahead of time. To even the playing field, Jeff Bezos of Amazon sets time at the beginning of the meeting for a period of silence during which everyone reads the preparatory material. This allows those who are behind to catch up and it allows those who have read the material to review it again. Everyone then has it fresh in mind.
Given your goals for the meeting, how long will take to achieve each item? Be realistic and allow enough time for the discussion you need. An overstuffed agenda with no space for the conversation you need to have often means the group often leaves the meeting with multiple loose ends. Then it will end up having to circle back to the item again.
You don’t have to do everything yourself
If you are facilitating the meeting, involve others in the meeting to play useful roles, such as a time-keeper and note-taker. If your meeting will involve splitting into small groups, ask each group to self-select people to play those three key roles.
Allow enough time to open, consider options and close each item during the space of the meeting. Leave time at the end to wrap up, review what was decided and what the next steps are. Do this out loud, to check for agreement, and then in writing – on a whiteboard or using a project management system or a simple email follow up with next steps and assignments.
Download the meetings worksheet to plan a better meeting.
Let's talk. I work with teams and organizations to improve their effectiveness, by identifying challenges that impede progress and helping the group create processes that will work for them.
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