How To Conduct Effective Meetings at Work

This is a guest post by Cornelius Mota of Poise Catalyst.

Guide to Effective Meetings

How much of your time goes into job-related meetings on a weekly basis? My guess is that a lot! Whether you chair the meeting or you are just a participant, meetings occupy a large portion of your time.

Imagine the benefits if you manage to make your meetings just a bit more effective! There is a compound effect at play here and over a month, or over a year for example, you are able to save huge time.

I was both a participant and a chair person in a lot of meetings. As you would expect, I’ve had many different experiences, both positive and negative:

  • In some cases, the points discussed in the meeting were on a totally different topic than expected, based on agenda.
  • In others, people started to attack each other by surprise, although no concerns were voiced prior to the meeting.
  • Other times, a meeting that was expected to last half an hour ended-up lasting for half a day.
  • Or how about those meeting that don’t actually accomplish anything?
  • Fortunately, there are also effective meetings that help solve problems and push things forward.

Before going further, don’t think about meetings only as a formal gathering of a lot of people. This also means meeting just one colleague to agree the next steps on a project. It’s true that for the purpose of this post we refer mostly to situations in which several people meet. However, the principles apply to pretty much any type of meeting.

Let’s get into a few rules for effective meetings that can really make a difference when applied consistently.

Rule #1: Be Clear on the Objective of the Meeting

Lacking clarity on the objective of the meeting is the number one root cause of wasting time in meetings. Especially with several people in the room, discussions can go into all sorts of directions.

If you chair the meeting, establish and align the objective of the meeting at setting the agenda stage. If you are a participant and the objective is not clearly communicate to you, ask for the objective to be clarified upfront.

Rule #2: Do Your Homework Well

Preparation is a key requirement for effective meetings. Ask yourself how you can contribute in the best way to the meeting and do your homework in advance.

If you chair the meeting, actively ask everybody to have their homework done by the time of the meeting, so that the time is spent to add value, not to update those who came unprepared.

Rule #3: Ask Yourself if You Really Need to Be Part of A Meeting

There are so many meetings going on and we may be expected to attend lots of them. However, you don’t have to attend all the meetings you get invited to.

Ask yourself if you can add value to the meeting. Determine if your presence in the meeting allows you or the others do a better job than if you don’t participate directly. If the answer is no, than decline participation.

Rule #4: Recognize When a Meeting Is Needed

There are situations in which email and phone are the best communication tools to use, and there are also instances in which meetings are much more suitable.

For example, people start adding to never-ending email chains, when a meeting may be a much more constructive and effective approach.

If you find yourself stuck into a situation like this, take the initiative and get all the key stakeholders together. This is particularly effective in the case of very complex projects or when there are tensions that get in the way of effective collaboration.

6 Tips To Note When You Chair a Meeting

  1. Have a clear agenda. The agenda should be based on the objective(s) of the meeting. This is your best friend in running the meeting. Why so? Because it is a great tool to guide the meeting and brings everybody back on the same page when discussions get off-track. Moreover, having a clear agenda that is distributed well in advance allows participants to prepare properly.
  2. Keep discussions actionable. The Chair of the meeting is responsible to guide the discussions and keep them actionable. Even if a point is on the agenda, discussions should build towards aligning next steps, as opposed to just voicing comments, opinions and ideas related to the topic. Have all participants contribute and moderate discussions, to make sure no time is wasted with point-scoring, adversarial debates. Read: How to Give Constructive Criticism.
  3. Set time limits. This works in the same way in which deadlines work for projects. If you don’t set them, a project and/or a discussion may carry-on indefinitely.  Setting time limits is very simple, yet very effective!
  4. Take breaks when needed. People have a limited attention span. Sometimes, in an attempt to cover and do more, there is a tendency to skip breaks. This hardly does any good for making the meeting effective, though. Quite the opposite. However, breaks need to be managed well. The duration should be clearly communicated upfront. Breaks don’t necessarily need to be long. Whatever the duration you decide upon, make sure you regroup in time, as planned.
  5. Watch the “any other business” section. Many meetings include on the agenda the so called “any other business”. This refers to topics that were not included on the agenda, but are relevant either to the objective of the meeting or to the group of participants. When not managed well, this section may lead to a lot of wasted time. Try to avoid this section completely. Or if you do decide to keep it, set a time limit for it.
  6. End the meeting with clear next steps, timings and owners assigned for all the action points. This will avoid wasted time in the future, because of lack of clarity in terms of who should do what and when. The entire meeting should be designed to lead up to this, unless there is another specific deliverable that was set.
In conducting a meeting, it’s also important to have great conversational skills and positive body language. The articles below will help:

Here you are! There’s no need to over-complicate things. If you follow the tips above consistently, you will certainly enjoy more effective meetings.

What about you? What is your experience with meetings in the workplace? Have you developed your own lessons after taking part in both effective and ineffective meetings? Share your tips with us!

Image: co-laborate!

About the Author: Cornelius is a life balance author and blogger. He worked in Fortune 100 companies such as P&G and Unilever and has over 10 years of business experience. Visit his blog Poise Catalyst and get his free course How To Become More Productive .
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  • JadePenguin

    Hehe, I’ll be chairing a meeting later today (if people show up now that it’s exam time!) I do love agendas and write them on a board to remind me what needs to be discussed.

    About the action points, what if the people in my group aren’t similarly minded? Often they end a discussion saying “Yeah, we’ll think about it next week or after exams are over”. Should I be more assertive until they come up with clear steps or would that scare them off instead? Note that it’s a student society and no one’s getting paid for this, so we really depend on everyone’s voluntary action! Yet I feel they’re getting nowhere with their ideas and will end up executing a half-baked plan when it could have been so much better :/

    • http://poisecatalyst.com Cornelius

      Hey,

      Fingers crossed for your meeting to be productive :)

      I would definitely set specific next steps, with timings attached. This doesn’t mean that you need to force onto people timings that are shorter than what they are ready to commit to.

      If nothing is set and summarized, people have a very low sense of commitment and usually nothing gets done. So it’s not about staying organized and in control, but about getting people to commit, both to themselves and to the others.

      I would indeed not try to pressure them. Instead, paint a vision that they are inspired by. What made them become a volunteer in that project? Try to build on that and “pull” them towards committing to more specific actions and timing.

      Don’t push them into it., but try not to leave things up in the air, either. At the end of the meeting you should have a list of specific action steps, with owners and timings attached.

      Thanks for your comment! And let us know how it went! :)

  • Mrs. Jones

    This is a very great post and i often find my meeting not progressing as i want to. Is it possible to leave out the section on Any other business when people already expect it?

    • http://poisecatalyst.com Cornelius

      Hi Mrs. Jones,

      Thanks for taking the time to comment! :)

      If people expect it, you can keep the any other business part in the agenda. However, set limits in terms of timing, eg. max 15 minutes. Announce this upfront and then, as you get close to the end of the 15 minutes, build your way towards ending the meeting, eg. “OK, we have time to discuss one more point”.

      Generally speaking, make sure the boundaries of the sections in your agenda are defined in very specific terms. Then, share and align the agenda in advance. Once you do this, it becomes a very useful tool in keeping the meeting focused.

      Hope this helps! :)
      Cornelius

  • Andreea

    Hey there!

    I find your article very interesting as it sums up right about everything one would need to know about how to keep a meeting focused. It is indeed very important to summarize what had been talked in the meeting so everyone will have a clear idea in the end. A clean and clear meeting will always have a better result and the ones involved will know and perform better their job.

    Great work Cornelius, sad to see you go. Good luck in the future!

    • http://poisecatalyst.com Cornelius

      Hi Andreea,

      Thanks for your comment and for the kind words! :)

      Yes, focus is really key for an effective meeting, isn’t it?

      Separately, I’m not going anywhere, lol! Please visit me at my blog, i.e. PoiseCatalyst.com if you enjoyed my articles. I will continue to post there. ;)

      Thanks again!

      • http://personalexcellence.co Celes

        Hey Cornel! I think Andreea was just expressing her disappointment that you will no longer be guest posting at PE (for now). But as you mentioned, you will continue to write at your blog, so Andreea, feel free to check out Cornel’s blog for most great career/life advice. There is definitely some great content there on how to live a stress-free and balanced life in today’s world!

        • http://poisecatalyst.com Cornelius

          Yes, via not going anywhere I meant that I would still be online, at my blog. Thanks Celes for phrasing it more clearly! :)

  • QK

    Hi Cornelius and Celes,

    Many thanks for the articles, it’s really helpful. I just have a little comment which I got from my work experience that we need to have a minutes after the meeting to sum up all the discussed points and agreements/ actions need to be taken, sent to every participants and involved people to keep track later : )

    Thanks again!

    • http://poisecatalyst.com Cornelius

      Hey,

      Great point! :)

      Not only that the meeting should end via summarizing the points discussed, next steps, owners and timings, but this summary needs to be distributed, like you mentioned.

      In fact distributing the summary is only the first step of the follow-up phase. There are many different cases and I did not enter into all the details in this post. However, depending on the type of meeting / project, there should be an approach in place, to make sure there checking points for the status in the future and for adjusting the next steps if needed .

      For example, if it’s a weekly projects review meeting, it’s a good idea to review the previous list of action steps in the next meeting.

      For the meetings are supposed to drive action, following-up and checking that the action is being taken as agreed is key.

      Thanks for your comment and for the great contribution to the discussion! :)

  • http://personalexcellence.co/ Celestine Chua

    This is the final guest post from Cornel and the last post in the Corporate Career Column. I would like to thank Cornel for his amazing contributions in the past three months: from the three-part office politics series, to the work-life balance article, to today’s post on how to conduct effective meetings. Be sure to swing over to his blog, Poise Catalyst, for more amazing posts on getting the best out of your career and life!