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Meetings; whether you think they are a necessary evil or a useful tool to coordinate, the truth of the matter is that we have all participated in one and that there are more of them upcoming in our calendars. So, let’s discuss meetings for once and find out how we can improve them.
We all have our own opinion about meetings, and we have all been in a meeting where we are only looking forward to one specific part of it: the end. Meetings are often perceived as a nuisance, but if used properly, meetings can be one of the most important tools out there. This is definitely the case during the current waging pandemic, when everybody is working from home. In this blog I will try and dig a bit deeper into the art of meetings, starting off with the formalities. In the next blog I will address different ways on how to improve your meetings and transform them from a staring contest with the clock to engaging tools of coordination.
First, let’s get the formalities out of the way.
The Goal of the meeting
Meetings have certain formalities that we briefly have to address. First and foremost: the motivation of the meeting; why are we even meeting in the first place? This should be clearly outlined from the start. A meeting without a goal is like a sailing ship without a destination, it can go on and on forever without coming closer to a real result. To avoid unnecessary or unproductive meetings you should only hold meetings which concern at least one or two elements of what I would like to call the Triple P-pyramid of meetings. The three elements (of which you should at least address either one or two in your meeting) are: People, Process and Product. This is basically a fancy way of saying: if your meeting does not concern your people, your process(es) or your product, then do everybody a favour and keep it for the watercooler.
If you want to have an operational goal which helps you steer the meeting, then you should ask yourself what you want to achieve by having the meeting in the first place. If you know that, then you can start off the agenda of the meeting by stating the goal of what you want to achieve, e.g., “the goal of this meeting is to discuss our way of working in the department” (this has both the People and Process element). This brings us to the second formality, the agenda.
A part of structurally working towards achieving your goal is the agenda. The agenda is the red thread that should run through your meeting and which can steer you back on course whenever you get too much off topic. Agenda’s come in different sizes in form and formality. However, every agenda should at least have:
- An introduction; to introduce the reason/background of the meeting.
- Agenda topics which have to be discussed.
- Round of question taking/open issue addressing.
- Conclusion/recap of the meeting.
Also important here: share the agenda in the invite which you are sending out, even if it is a re-occurring meeting. This way everybody is informed about what will be discussed and has time to prepare in advance.
The third formality is time. Time is quite relevant but also quite dependent on the kind of meeting you are having. The smaller the meeting, the less time it should take (obviously). Also remember that the average person does not have an attention span that exceeds 45 minutes, so remember to take breaks and to freshen up the mental capabilities of your employees. It is difficult to give a good estimation on what time suits what meeting. It all depends on form and content. The important thing is to stay concise and stick to the agenda. Staying on topic and with a certain speed keeps people motivated and alert. Moving too deep and too long on to details makes them demotivated and longing for the next coffee break.
If you are dealing with a lot of debates during meetings, then remember that it is a meeting, not a debate. It should be a moment for coordination not for intense debate. This is not to say that you cannot have a discussion. Discussions in and of themselves are good, but at a certain point they need to come to a conclusion or consensus. Either they develop in a constructive way towards some sort of solution or they keep going on and on in circles. In the second scenario, (and let’s face it; we’ve all been in such a meeting) it is up to the leader to cut off the discussions for the sake of productivity. Speaking of leaders, it is time to address the third formality.
The leader and the recorder
The fourth formality is about delegating roles. Meetings have many different roles, again depending on their formality and size. There are however two roles which are commonly found in every meeting. The first one is the leader of the meeting. Remember the ship analogy? Well, here is your captain. It’s the leaders duty to address and open each topic and to make sure that everybody’s voice is being heard (and yes this is important, if it would not be important to hear what the participants of a meeting have to say, then why invite them in the first place?).
The second role is the one of the recorder. This is somewhat of a controversial topic and in general there are two ways to go about this. The first way is to go old-school and to assign somebody to take notes of the entire meeting for everybody. Why? Simple, that way everybody else remains focussed on the meeting at hand and does not get lost between listening and taking notes. The other way, and I prefer this one, is to make note taking a common responsibility. A good way to do this is to open an online shared document (e.g., Google docs or Word) and start to take notes simultaneously in the agenda. Of course, you need to make sure here that the agenda is properly formatted and that all the points are present, but you understand where I am going with this. Always start off the document with the most recent meeting and keep all the previous meetings in the same document. This way participants can scroll down and look through previous meetings and see what has been said/decided.
Type of meeting
The last topic on the list is the type of meeting you can have. The type of the meeting is connected to the expected outcome. So, whenever you have a meeting on a specific topic add the type of meeting in the description so the participants know what they can expect in terms of attitude, discussed topics, and eventual results. Here are some examples of types of meetings:
- Status Update Meetings – meetings which should produce a status update on a specific subject
- Decision-Making Meetings – meetings which should produce a decision on a specific subject
- Problem-Solving Meetings – meetings which should produce solutions for specific problems
- Team-Building Meetings – meetings which focus on team building
- Brainstorming Meetings – meetings which are intended as a brainstorm/idea-sharing session
All meetings roughly have three things in common: a goal, an agenda and assigned roles. These form the necessary foundation for each productive meeting. Getting this right is the first and founding step towards productivity. So define your goal, set the agenda, limit your time and assign the roles to make the next meeting a quick and productive one. If you want more practical tips on how to improve the formalities of your meeting, click here.
Yes, yes, I know, familiar terrain so far. In the next blog I will therefore discuss how to transform your meeting from a staring contest with the clock to an engaging tool of coordination.