Meetings can be a double-edged sword.
One that either generates lots of emotional whinging or when they work well, becomes the focal point of an idea, campaign or programme.
It is purely within the control of the few individuals that host and participate in the meeting to decide which is a better outcome. Take a step back and think for a minute.
Most people operate with their own cost-benefits analysis perspective. Meetings are deemed a waste of time, when it impacts their own set of tasks while seemingly contributing to another person's agenda.
Does this always have to be the case for meetings? Are meetings always about taking more than giving?
Based on 20 years of personal experience, having been on both sides of the corporate-consultant fence, here are some questions and directions to help drive useful meetings. Whinging sold separately.
1. Is a meeting necessary to drive decisions and move a project or programme forward?
Planning for your meeting is absolutely important and a key responsibility of the meeting organiser. Meetings are not about checking off a list of what is expected for a project leader, or a team manager.
It is critical that meetings achieve decisions, and that all participants get a sense of moving forward on their activity or project.
All these matters are of course, to be done as quickly as possible, minimising the time taken away from matters. In the current work environment, everyone typically works in a matrix organisation, and therefore responsible for different things at any given point of time.
2. Is there an agenda or a stated outcome of the meeting?
Meetings are the first tool of every corporate executive; and the first step in establishing order in a room (or team ) full of mess. The issue here isn't about whether the tool is sharp, but whether it is the right tool for the moment.
Consider setting an outcome of the meeting, and make it clear to participants what and why they are joining a meeting.
Create an agenda. Keep it short, keep to the topic wherever possible. Feel free to tell participants that they are messing the meeting up whenever they veer off-subject or try to hijack the agenda.
3. Will this be a routine or recurring meeting?
The concepts of routine or recurring are mutually exclusive. Routine meetings cover topics that do not change over a period of time. For example, product sales meetings over the life cycle of a product tend to focus on the same topics at each meeting.
However, recurring meetings do not need to be routine. These second type of meeting happens repeatedly because there might be need to move decisions forward at each stage of planning, development or execution.
Use both meeting formats sparingly and only involve participants that are key to the process. If in doubt, read point #1 again.
4. Did we become more efficient and productive as a result or outcome of the meeting?
Meetings drive decisions. Once decisions have been made, the team should feel empowered and excited about moving on with the tasks. If they do not seem to be, it might be necessary to identify if the meeting outcomes have instead thrown up roadblocks or challenges to execution.
A positive outcome of a well-planned meeting is to equip participants with the information and capability to execute on their domain areas (or delegated tasks). When such participants work on their areas, they become more efficient (i.e. take less time to produce an outcome), and productive (i.e. produce more outcomes against the schedule) over the course of the project or programme.
5. Did the meeting pass the "useful" test?
Put simply, after the meeting is over, do participants feel like they were better off sticking to their own tasks instead of contributing at the meeting?
There are many ways to find this out from colleagues and team members. One of the most obvious means though is whether they are enthusiastic about handling the tasks delegated to them at the meeting, or drag their feet and delay specifically about the meeting outcomes.
When this happens, consider reaching out to team members individually and ask them for direct feedback. Remind one another about common purposes and objectives, and ask for opinions about whether to include them in the next meeting.
For meeting organisers, remember in a connected world, there is more than one method of gathering contributions.
Here are some more articles to refer to for more ideas relating to running effective meetings.
Let us try to kick the habit of having "waste-of-time" whing-y meetings. Plan well and have meetings that move the needle and make this environment your normal instead!