As a business and leadership coach for the past fifteen years, I’ve worked with organisations both large and small to enable them to be more effective and efficient in their business operations. Efficient meetings are a great use of everyones’ time when properly planned and executed. Today I want to share with you some of the secrets to making meetings work well for you, no matter whether you are a manager or an employee.

Keep in mind that all organisations are in one of four stages, startup, growing, stagnant or declining. Meetings are a tool that should be used to improve communication throughout the organisation, enabling the free flow of information up, down and laterally between divisions and employees.

If you take a minute to consider the word, “communication” and it’s etymology, it is comprised of the word ‘communicate’ which is defined as, “to impart information to another” and the suffix ‘ion’ which turns the verb into a noun. Hence ‘communication’ is, “the state of imparting knowledge to another person(s)”. If the knowledge does not get transferred, then it is fair to say that communication has actually NOT taken place. So always keep in mind that it’s not what you said that’s important, but rather what was understood by the other party.

As organisations grow, meetings should be used as a mechanism to discuss timely issues, make decisions, hold people accountable and ensure the right people are kept informed. Many small business owners shy away from structured meetings with their staff as they make the excuse that they speak to their staff all day long but in doing this they tend to end up micromanaging their staff and creating many unnecessary interruptions in their day.

Four Core Requirements for Meetings
1. Purpose – Every meeting must have a clearly defined purpose
2. Agenda – Every meeting needs a clear written agenda including timeframe and attendees
3. Chair – Every meeting needs a chairperson to keep it on-track and within time
4. Minutes – Every meeting needs a set of minutes documenting what was discussed and agreed to

Effective meetings need in addition to this:
1. Discipline – Always start and finish the meeting on-time. No side discussions. Keep the meeting as short as possible. Stand-up meetings (or huddles) can be a great way to do this.
2. Engagement – ie. Everyone paying attention, not playing with electronic devices. As many people as possible contributing to the discussion of important issues.
3. Preparation – All attendees giving prior thought to what they want from the meeting
4. Variety – Finding a way to mix things up a little from time to time with new activities or discussion topics, asking different people to chair the meeting.
5. Regular review – Asking attendees from time to time to rate the meeting value on a scale of 1-10. Review if you need to change the meeting agenda / timeframe / location / attendees.

If a meeting purpose is to ‘inform’ then it doesn’t matter how many people are in attendance as there will likely be little discussion taking place. Many people are intimidated by having to speak in front of a group of people so they are reluctant to speak up in such a setting.

If a meeting purpose is to ‘discuss or decide’ then I would suggest that a group of 12 attendees as a maximum will work well. If the meeting is larger than this, then it makes sense to split the room into smaller groups to discuss issues and then report back their conclusions to the larger group.

One of the secrets to running discussion meetings is to ensure you get everyone involved or to say something at the beginning of the meeting. You may have heard the term before, “You start how you finish.” In meetings, if you can get each person to say one thing at the beginning (such as what they want from the meeting or perhaps their biggest win in the prior week), then they are much more likely to speak up during the meeting. An effective chair will notice those attendees holding back from sharing their view(s) and invite them to do so.

Google completed an interesting research project on the secrets of effective teams they called Project Aristotle. What they found was that the most successful teams weren’t those with the best players, rather it was the ability of the team to create an environment of psychological safety and the harnessing of a diverse range of ideas and opinions that were major drivers of success.

In larger organisations, it can be easy to be pulled into many meetings that are of very limited value to you or also ones where you feel that you can contribute little of value. Before you know it, your work day is over and you haven’t been able to get any work done. My suggestion is to never make the same mistake twice. Ask to be excused from future meetings if they are not relevant to you or perhaps to negotiate to attend only part of the meeting. Don’t be afraid to ask the question at the end of a meeting, “Out of interest, can I ask on a scale of 1-10 what value did everyone get from the meeting today?”

Many people think management is all about ‘managing down’, that is, managing the employees you are directly responsible for. I’d like to remind you also of the importance of ‘managing up’, letting your managers know what you need from them in order for you to be as productive and successful as possible. If you need a regular meeting with them, request it, create the agenda and send the minutes afterwards. If you want to reduce the number of meetings, ask to add to the meeting agenda a discussion point about the timing (frequency and duration) of meetings going forward.

The secret to making meetings work for you is to understand that they are a necessary evil, however when you manage them effectively they will make you and your colleagues more productive and lead to better ideas, discussions and decisions.

If you would like to discuss training or coaching for your organisation, please feel free to get in touch.

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