How To Have Effective Meetings
I’m in a very fortunate position when it comes to the fact that I get to compare and contrast how different businesses conduct their operations. I’ve also been able to sit on a fair share of meetings - I'll often ask if I can experience it first hand, as if I were a fly on the wall observing - just as an experiment in how different organisations have effective meetings. Too often, however, I’ve seen people get together in a room, and by virtue of the simple fact that they’re assembled in a room together, they feel as though they’re having a good meeting.
Everyone in the organisation needs to realise that time is precious, particularly when the organisation’s time and resources are all being allocated to a one-to-two hour meeting; a time when some departments grind to a halt while the manager is occupied. I’ve come to realise, through both experience and reading the psychology behind how our brains work in the context of doing business that the difference between an effective meeting and a waste of everyone’s time boils down to a few simple steps, which i’ll impart very soon.
Before we get to that, though, I think it’s worth pointing out that the inherent benefits of implementing a quality management system is that you’re required to implement new styles of conducting meetings, and they’ll be more pointed and purposeful. A quality management system requires you to have an in-depth look at your operations and to constantly look at the data as to how your organisation is tracking.
Use Appreciative Inquiry in Your Meetings
Hopefully by now you’ve read my series of posts on appreciative inquiry in the context of doing business; if not, you can catch up on it here. Appreciative Inquiry is one of the most simple yet effective ways to kick-start a positive psychological loop in your organisation, and ensures the product or service you’re delivering only gets better as you double-down on your strengths. It’s a collaborative process, and requires you to get feedback and input from everyone in your organisation, which makes it a great place to start in terms of having effective meetings. Ask around to everyone in your organisation to list of what you’re currently doing well, and ensure the necessary steps are put in place to make sure this doesn’t suffer. Promises made to your clients are the most important promises to deliver upon, so when you’re in a meeting, make sure everyone has listed what they believe to be the most important promises you’re making to the market. This will in part form what is to become your mission statement, and gives you an idea of certain parts of the organisation that simply cannot go backward.
Empower Your Staff
As a leader, you might think i’m the loudest voice in the room for a meeting. At times you’d be right, but typically I try to do more listening in a meeting than to use it as a time to sit back and listen to my staff; they’re my ears and eyes on the ground, after all. Only the most stubborn leaders will use their meetings as a soapbox. Let your meetings be a time of empowerment and give everyone in the room an opportunity - equal, if possible - to speak. Great decisions for the organisation are based on first-hand experience from everyone in the organisation, as well as drawing on the experience from your management team; it’s not a matter of just one or the other. The by-product of empowering your staff in meetings is that they're likely to be more productive for the rest of the week, and if you assign projects to staff members that would not normally be on the part of the consultation process are now emboldened with a sense of accountability to contribute more.
On a similar note to empowering your staff, encourage healthy debate. Organisations that produce extraordinary results are the ones that acknowledge that while it’s good to ensure everyone is happy and feels safe, you need to be objective about things. Sometimes simply acknowledging this at the start of a meeting can help people realise that it’s not necessarily an attack on themselves of their personality if they are going to receive some feedback. When you become part of an organisation, there’s an inherent amount of accountability that you’re also taking on, to produce better results than when you walked in the door. Another way to ensure no one feels attacked is to make sure the criticisms remain solely on their work, or the underwhelming results of a project, rather than reflective of their efforts or their personality. Give them a ‘criticism sandwich’, a critique sandwiched between two compliments.
Stick to the Agenda
This, at times, is easier said than done. It’s common to get derailed and find your team talking about something completely different. It’s human nature, so it’s at times inevitable, and it’s also tempting for some personalities to get distracted and relish in the opportunity to talk about something that isn’t necessarily related to your organisation, or the project at hand. To combat the potential time-wasting, have a list of agenda items that you’d like to be addressed for your meeting - this is more applicable to bigger, management review sessions rather than weekly meetings - and also allocate an appropriate amount of time to discuss the problem and possible solutions before moving to the next item. Keep the inverted pyramid structure in mind when you’re drawing up your agenda, positioning the most important issues up top so they’re addressed early on in the session. You want be leveraging everyone’s brain power on the most important issues.
Have them regularly, not quarterly.
While a quality management system asks you to have quarterly management review sessions, I suggest you should at the very least have fortnightly, if not weekly department meetings to ensure you’re on track. The problem with having quarterly meetings only is that your organisation is less likely to adapt to market changes, as they’ll often spring upon you without warning, leaving you little in the way of time to make effective changes in the aftermath, or planning time if you’re able to spot a trend ahead of time. Having regular meetings also ensures that you’re able to tick off short-term goals that contribute to the larger goals in your organisation, rather than only measuring your progress toward achieving a large goal set out in your management review meetings. Quite often, the people in your organisation will need more support - be it time or resources - to achieve their goals on time, so if you meet regularly, they’ll be able to air their concerns, and as a manager you’ll have a better idea of how the project is tracking along.
Start and Finish On Time
On that note, an agenda ties perfectly into this point. In the absence of an agenda, you run the risk of getting caught in a tangent while your meeting runs over time. This can manifest two problems: you’re either caught running over time and leaving important agenda items unaddressed, wrapping up your meeting because it’s gone thirty-minutes over and people have things to do, and you risk losing the attention of members of your staff that aren’t engaged in the conversation, who begin to day-dream because the meeting isn’t over yet.
If you’re running over time on a certain item, you can either organise a follow-up meeting with specific people involved in the project’s delivery, or you can address it in the next session.