One of the impediments to successful completion of projects is the dreaded meeting. In economic development, it seems we can’t get anything done without having a meeting to vet both the business and political implications of ideas and actions. Entire days may fall into the black hole of back-to-back-to-back meetings. And the time it takes to match calendars means even meeting scheduling requires a significant investment of time.
The probability of eliminating meetings from our work process is pretty low. Although, if you do please share the secrets of your success. We will all be eternally grateful.
So if we can’t eliminate meetings, maybe we can make them more productive. Here is an eight-step process that, if followed, will transform meetings from a waste of time into an efficient way to accomplish your goals.
Eight Steps To More Effective Meetings
STEP ONE: The person contemplating organizing a meeting needs to objectively answer the following questions.
- Do I really need a meeting (3 or more people) to accomplish what I need done?
- What would happen if I didn’t call a meeting?
I always tell people that meetings are an organizational choice on how to accomplish a task. It is not the only choice that can be made, and it may not be the best choice depending on the circumstances. And most important in my mind, I counsel that meetings should never be the automatic default choice.
One time I was sitting in a meeting of a dozen executives and was getting more frustrated by the minute because I felt it was a waste of my time. To illustrate my point, I asked everybody attending to calculate what that 1-hour of time cost the company based on their individual salaries and benefits. The total number was roughly $1,200. We had just cost our shareholders over $1,000 and accomplished nothing. And that figure wasn’t adjusted upward for opportunity costs since each of us had important work to complete outside of the meeting.
If the decision is to call a meeting, then you better be certain the output minimally justifies the financial value of the time invested by attendees. Hopefully this simple initial screen will reduce the number of meetings called in your Organization.
Assuming the decision is that a meeting makes good sense, then it is time for …
STEP TWO: Write down the purpose of the meeting.
If you get asked to attend a meeting and are unclear on the purpose, refuse to attend until it is clear. My attitude is that if the person calling the meeting cannot articulate the expected outcome, then the meeting will likely be a disaster and a complete waste of my time. Sometimes I am wrong with that approach. But most of the time my assumption is right. It costs less money to apologize when I am wrong than it does to consistently waste time in bad meetings. I’ll happily take the risk of a type II error in my hypothesis that a meeting without an articulated purpose is a waste of my time.
STEP THREE: Once a clear statement of purpose is written, answer the following questions –
- How will I measure the success of the meeting? What will be different as a result of this investment of people’s time and energy?
- If a reporter was writing a story about my meeting, what headline would I want to describe what was accomplished?
- Would the expected news from the meeting be something my Management and Board of Directors would be happy to have just paid for?
- Would the total costs (expense, overhead, full loaded salaries for participants) be viewed as a worthwhile investment or a foolish waste of funding?
STEP FOUR: Determine who really needs to attend. Rarely do you need all the people that seem to show up to a meeting. Figure out who the right people are and be able to explain the unique value they contribute to delivering against the meeting purpose. Answer the following questions:
- Which of the TWO TYPES of meetings is this one? Information or Decision Making?
- Based on the type, double check the success measures. They should be different for Information meeting vs. a Decision-Making meeting.
- What is required for the meeting to meet the success criteria?
- * Knowledge?
- * Time?
- * Authority?
- * Vested interest in a component or outcome?
- Who is required to attend in order to achieve the right mix of the four items above?
- Who will serve multiple roles in the meeting?
Invest the time to plan a general agenda capable of achieving the purpose. This includes allocating an appropriate amount of time for each agenda item. You need to know how long the meeting will be and what equipment (e.g. flipcharts or audiovisual support) may be required.
STEP FIVE: Invite, disinvite and be ready to explain why certain people and groups were not invited. People who are used to attending meetings will expect to be invited to yours, even if the value they add is minimal at best. As the person managing the meeting, you need to ensure only the people you really must have in attendance to achieve the meeting purpose are invited.
- Communicate to each group or individual the expectation and rationale for their participation or lack of participation in the meeting. Provide clear logistic information to those invited or required to attend.
- Expect you will need to listen to “push back” from people you decided to exclude from the meeting. Their ego may be bruised even though you are actually being more respectful of the value of their time.
- Listen to their reasons, share your rationale and then decide if your view is changed. If not, stick to your guns!
STEP SIX: Plan the Meeting
Productive meetings take an investment in pre-planning. They don’t just happen. I often hear from people that they have never invested the amount of time planning a meeting that I am suggesting. My push back is that if you feel it isn’t worth the time, then don’t bother having a meeting. We all go to too many meetings where adequate time was not invested in the planning and as a consequence it is a complete waste of everybody’s time.
- Finalize the topics and required flow to lead to success.
- Allocate times to the various tasks and topics.
- Identify roles needed in the meeting and owners of each.
- Prepare materials, pre-work; handouts or follow up needed.
STEP SEVEN: Hold The Meeting
STEP EIGHT: Don’t Revisit The Results
Summarize the results of every meeting you hold and share the summary with both attendees and people who have a stake in the outcome. Resist having follow-up meetings to “shape” what was agreed in the meeting. If attendees have a perspective, they should bring it forward in the meeting and not try to “politic” you after the fact.
Well, that is it. Eight steps that will help you ensure productive meetings. Hopefully, your reaction is that it takes a lot of work. Ideally, you will eliminate meetings that don’t warrant the amount of preparation work described. There is nothing wrong with picking up a phone and talking with somebody to get the information you require versus holding a meeting to accomplish the same thing. Your bias should be toward ACTION. Admittedly, that is my 2 cents worth, but it is hard to argue with the concept of investing sufficient prep time to ensure your meeting purpose is achieved.
What’s Your Experience?
What percent of meetings you attend are worthwhile? Do you find yourself in meetings where you wonder why you were ever invited? Do you ask people who invite you to attend meetings what the purpose of the meeting is? What tips do you have for running effective meetings?
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