Meetings appear to be the biggest frustration for everyone in an organization. Managers, team leaders and even business owners seem to hate them. Their complaint is ‘no-one ever has anything to say during the meeting then 5 minutes after the meeting is finished they are in the lunch-room bitching and moaning. Why can’t they bring their bitches to the meeting?’

Employees hate them because ‘they chew us so much time; most meetings are consumed by one or two people talking ad nauseum. Meetings appear to be focused mostly on the past and rarely give us time to talk about the future’.

Over the years I’ve experimented with calling meetings by other names, simply because the very word ‘meetings’ conjures up all manner of reactions – usually of the negative kind.  Try finding another name, or even have different names for different types of meeting i.e:

  • A Nuts and Bolts session – this suggests a get together that is purely operational
  • Forums – could be used for more open discussion; to share ideas; to give feedback on a project. Nuts and bolts and forums do need to be purely business focused
  • Mastermind Sessions – after the business of the team or department is finished then the last 15 minutes could be kept as time to allow people to ask for help/coaching/guidance and suggestions for projects they are involved in or simply to share a success story. A quick round-the-table is a good way to end the meeting. Give everyone 1 minute to say whatever they need to say. I know one minute isn’t long, but if you have 10 people in the meeting – that’s 10 precious minutes. And in my experience, the longer you give people the longer they take!

However, if some people feel this is purely semantics and a meeting is a meeting, then these are my suggestions for making the best use of the time people spend in a meeting and the best ways to harness the incredible brain power in the room:

  1. Conduct some pre-work by asking a few questions of your people:
  • Do we need to have a meeting at all?
  • If we do, then who really needs to be there?
  • When will we have the meeting?
  • How often should we meet?
  • Where will we hold it?
  • What notice do we need to give and how will we do that?
  • What do people need to bring?
  • How long is it going to last (everyone is busy these days)?
  • Who will chair the meeting?
  • Do we need a timekeeper?
  • Who will take the minutes?
  • What results do we want from the meeting?
  1. Meetings must have an AGENDA!
    People need to know in advance what is to be covered so they can come to the meeting prepared.
  2. They must have an assertive leader – someone who can keep things on track; who can put a halt to undue negativity; who can bring things to a conclusion in a way that everyone feels they have been heard. Someone who can then set clearly defined action points as to who is responsible for what and by when.

NB: Attendees need to be responsible for noting their own action points AT the meeting. So many people wait for the minutes to come out – which often happens about half an hour before the next meeting and then offer this as their excuse for not having done what they were supposed to do. Absolutely not OK!

  1. Inform those who need to be there and send them the agenda – ask if they have anything they would like to add to the agenda.
  2. Start the first meeting by agreeing some ground rules for future meetings i.e.
  • This is a safe zone
  • No rank in the room
  • 3. Everyone participates, no one dominates
  • Help us stay on track
  • Listen as a friend
  • One speaker at a time
  • Give freely of your experiences
  • Everything discussed stays within the group
  • Respect feelings and opinions
  • Keep an open mind

Ask members what ground rules would be important for them, you might be quite surprised what people say is important to them. I think most people want the same things For example:

  • Meetings will start on time and finish on time. If people show up late that is their problem – we will not go back to cover what has been said. This quickly sends a message that if they are late they will miss valuable information.
  • Agree on the time frame at the beginning – we plan to be out of here by ….
  • Agree on a frame of reference (what I want to achieve today is x, if we have time I would like to discuss y and if we then have further time left, we can look at z.)
  • To maximise time for people, use what I call a 1/3, 1/3, 1/3 technique, and have a time keeper so people stick to those thirds. The first third of the meeting will be about last week (or month) depending on how often you plan to have your meetings. The Second third is to go over the coming month – what projects are in place, who will be on leave, what deadlines are due. The first 2/3rds of the meeting then become about operational matters – what I call the working IN stuff. The final third of the meeting is to be for general business – the thing we usually give one or two minutes as we are all flying out the door to attend our next meeting; yet this final 1/3 is actually the most important part of the meeting. This is for ideas, issues, concerns, success stories – whatever. This is the working ON the business

Have an ‘issues board’

If the meeting does run out of time and people had raised things they wanted to talk about, put these on the issues board and make them a priority for the next meeting. This way attendees will know that things they have raised will be dealt with, not just ignored or swept under the carpet

Agree on a process for ‘other business’

Because there are only so many hours in a day, it may be worthwhile every now and again to have a meeting dedicated solely to ‘other business’

And some of my personal favourites you can add, just in case the ones above don’t quite give you the sharpness of meetings that you would like:

  • People who arrive late will be fined $5
  • We do not wait for the ‘minutes’ to come out, we each write down our action points
  • People who have not done what they said they would do are fined $10
  • We have a ‘2-5’ minute limit on any one person talking – that way no-one gets to drone on and send the rest of us to sleep
  • Our meeting space is a safe zone – if people can’t bring their issues to the meeting then we ask that they don’t raise them outside the meeting
  1. Meetings must stay on task, on time and on track
  2. Vary your meetings so they don’t become dull and repetitive:
  • Swap the chair regularly (by chairing every meeting yourself, you miss what is really going on in the meeting. And by having the same person chairing meetings all the time, the meetings become same-old, same-old and boring)
  • Swap the timekeeper regularly
  • Swap the minute taker regularly. (Please don’t make minute taking the job of the female members of your team – men are perfectly capable of taking minutes)
  1. Summarise Who is doing what and by when
  • How you will deal with ‘other business’
  • Set the date for the next meeting
  • Agree who will chair the meeting (make sure everyone takes a turn)
  • Who is going to be the timekeeper (ditto)
  • Who is going to take the minutes (ditto)
  1. The chairperson is responsible for:
  • Deciding when to give people time to discuss an issue, when to move on
  • Knowing how to deal with disagreements (i.e. it sounds like we have two very different opinions on this, what do others think and how do we move forward?)
  • Keeping everyone focused on tasks not personalities
  • Making sure people don’t go off on tangents which chew up valuable time
  • Letting everyone have input without letting the meeting go on beyond agreed finish times ( a careful balancing act I know)
  • Not letting anyone dominate
  • Accountability – if someone said they would do something and they didn’t why did they not let someone know and what now happens to the person and the action point?
  1. Review the Meeting Process itself every now and again
  • Ask attendees what is going well in the meetings?
  • What could be done more effectively?

As a Leader/manager, meetings are the most important tool you have for many reasons, they are:

  • A rare opportunity to get everyone together.
  • A chance to chew the fat, catch up, find out who is doing what and who may need support.
  • A chance to compare results and check workloads – who is overloaded – who could give them a hand.
  1. Vary the reason for and even the duration of meetings:
  • Whinge sessions (it’s OK to have these every now and again) where nothing else is dealt with but issues people feel need airing (do these type of sessions very carefully of course otherwise they can end up being ‘blame’ sessions or pity parties – we are a business not a social welfare department! Ask participants ‘what is preventing you from doing your job effectively?’)
  • Brainstorming sessions
  • Celebratory sessions
  • Strategic thinking sessions – no operational business to be conducted at all

Large meetings – Every two/three months this can be used as an opportunity to share the strategic information on the company (a state of the nation) plus create an opportunity for people to ask questions. It is also a chance to hear, meet and involve EVERYONE.

Brainstorming/creativity sessions – these are NOT for general business, they are to get everyone together to come up with new ideas…

  • Set a target – each group to come up with 20 new ideas for improvement.
  • Have people decide – which of their 20 ideas is a long term/medium term/short term/immediate idea
  • Of the immediate – who will do what/by when/what support do they need to complete the task
  • Guest speakers from outside the organization or even someone from within the organization to motivate and inspire – it is my firm belief that if you keep energy levels high then productivity will follow
  • Different people within the actual team to share information/success stories (best practices) of other organizations that have impressed them – discuss whether this could be implemented in your own organization and team
  • Praise….Celebrate
  • Accept that some people may not contribute and that’s OK just so long as they don’t then leave the meeting, go to the lunch room and have plenty to say. Not OK!
  1. Don’t be afraid of meetings.
    Experiment; gain feedback; ask for ideas and input as to how your meetings can be better. Make them work for you. Look at the money sitting around the table – look at the brain power sitting around the table.

Meetings are also your greatest opportunity as a manager/owner to delegate many of the trivial tasks you are currently doing that you shouldn’t be doing; to allow you to start working ON the business rather than IN the business.

Meetings are also a valuable opportunity for employees to become more involved in the big picture, not only by in sharing their ideas for improving the day to day, but by actually taking ownership and responsibility for implementing many of the ideas that come out of the sessions.

And I leave you with this thought:

‘Meetings are the linchpin of everything. If someone says, you have an hour to investigate a company, I wouldn’t look at the balance sheet, I’d watch their executive team in a meeting for an hour. If they are clear and focused and have the board on the edge of their seats, I’d say, this is a company worth investing in.’ – Patrick Lencioni

Ann Andrews CSP

Author: Lessons in Leadership: 50 ways to avoid falling into the ‘Trump’ trap

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