How to Conduct Effective Meetings at Work


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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.

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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.

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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!

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