Meetings can often take up time and energy but yield little obvious result. With so many people in a room and so many agendas to discuss, they can often descend into little more than a talking shop which lasts for hours on end and leaves its participants feeling drained and frustrated with the lack of progress.
Yet meetings do still serve a purpose, and can often be the best way to encourage face-to-face discussion of a topic in a world dominated by email chains and remote workers. By treating your meetings like every other element of your organisation, as a process which needs a plan, an outcome and a best practice strategy, you can improve the efficiency and effectiveness of your meetings and ensure that each one proves a worthwhile and invigorating experience for yourself and your team members alike.
Here are some tips for how you can host better meetings:
DO YOUR PREPARATION
According to an article by partner at Upfront Ventures, Mark Suster (writing for Inc.com), the preparation you put into a meeting in advance is absolutely vital if it is going to be successful. Although discussing board meetings in particular, Suster explains that many of the steps he recommends could be applied to meetings more broadly, as the notion of being organised and having clear aims in mind are of relevance to a wide range of circumstances.
Suster suggests sending over key information that will be discussed, for example financial and operating metrics, ‘no less than 72 hours before the meeting,’ or even better a week in advance. He also suggests following this up by scheduling a call with the attendees to ‘make sure they understand the key issues and ask their impressions.’ This is also an opportunity to ‘ask if there are any strategic concerns or topics they want to discuss at the board meeting,’ as this will help you to craft an agenda for the meeting itself that will keep discussions on task.
LINK YOUR MEETING STRUCTURE TO YOUR GOALS
Of course whole-team meetings can be a useful way of ensuring that important updates are communicated regularly and a sense of team cohesion is fostered, but this does not mean that they should be the default option for everything meeting that you hold.
For Harvard Business Review (HBR), often ‘teams fail to link the structure (i.e., content, frequency, and duration) of their meetings with the job that needs to be accomplished in those meetings.’ Explaining that ‘a one-size-fits-all team meeting rarely works,’ HBR suggests managers must think carefully about how the structure of a meeting will enable you and your team to reach the results needed.
HBR suggests five clear steps that should be undertaken to align the structure of meetings with an organisation’s goals. These include:
- Define the work of the team – when one person is fully accountable for a task, there is little point including it in the agenda. Focus on ‘the items where the team’s input will change the trajectory of the work.’
- Parse the items into different categories so meetings can be tailored to the content – splitting discussions into categories can avoid switching between topics and creating disjointed conversation.
- Determine the frequency with which you need to discuss each category – short term questions like monthly projections need to be discussed more frequently than long-term innovation projects, so your meetings should reflect this.
- Set the length– meetings that happen regularly need to be crisp and to the point, while strategic meetings should allow more time for people to explore the ideas under discussion.
- Plan for overflow – by leaving space in the calendar for overflow, you can avoid cramming at the end of meetings and a sense of panic that everything must be discussed there and then.
By following the above advice, you can begin to build more effective and efficient meetings that yield results in line with your organisation’s broader aims. By treating meetings as you would a client pitch and preparing ahead of time, making sure everyone involved is on the same page and then tailor-making the structure of meeting to reach the goal in sight, you can break out of the bad habits that come with a one-size-fits-all approach to meetings.
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