Successful group of business people at work in modern office
Everyone attends them, most people hate them, and few are done well. What are we talking about? Meetings! Studies show that poorly-run meetings are a multi-billion-dollar problem in U.S. organizations. Meetings are supposed to be an engine of collaboration and productivity, yet studies show that less than 50% of time spent in meetings is considered effective and useful. This rampant misuse of people’s time and energy can be prevented if we all learn how to better design, run, and participate in meetings.
Effective meetings produce useful results. Effective meetings have high participation, good energy, constructive collaboration, and meaningful conversations. In short, effective meetings are those which tap into the wisdom, expertise, and energy of the group. Effective meetings are interactive and valuable to both the meeting leader and the meeting attendees. Effective meetings stay on topic and use people’s time and energy well.
Leading effective meetings—meetings that matter–is part science and part art. The science is in taking care of the essential elements that go into the meeting structure. The art is in the way we think about designing our meetings and promoting positive engagement of participants. The following nine tools and techniques are essential building blocks that will help you lead meetings that get results – meetings that are positive, engaging, and efficient. Your next meeting participants will thank you!
1. Have a Purpose
Most people begin planning their meetings by creating an agenda; this is a serious mistake. The first step should always be defining the purpose of the meeting. Everything else follows the purpose. Ask yourself:
· Why are we meeting?
· What do we need to accomplish?
· What are the meeting’s goals and objectives?
· What are the meeting deliverables?
· What will be different for us as a result of our meeting?
2. Design an Agenda
Once you have clearly articulated the meeting’s purpose and objectives, it is time to design the agenda. The key word here is design. Creating a meeting that is engaging and productive requires more than simply jotting down a few topic areas—it requires being creative and thoughtful about the “what” needs to be discussed and the “how” to discuss them. Think of meetings as a series of conversations in which the participants must engage in order to accomplish the purpose. Ask yourself:
· What conversations need to take place in order to accomplish our purpose?
· In what order do we need to have these conversations?
· What is the goal of each conversation?
· What is the best way to conduct each conversation?
This is where a little “art” comes in. Be creative about how you conduct the conversations. Don’t just rely on introducing the topic and waiting for folks to chime in. There are many tools and techniques you can use to tap into the wisdom of your participants—all your participants, not just the most vocal ones. Techniques can range from simple “round-robins” where you go around the room and hear from everyone, to pair-shares, to more elaborate conversation structures like SWOT Analysis where participants identify Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. Specific tools and techniques are readily available online. Here are a few to get you started:
Finally, create a meeting timeline based on the conversations you intend to facilitate. Keep your meeting tight, focused, and as short and as efficient as possible.
3. Invite the Right People
Not having the right people in the room is one of the top ten complaints people have about wasted meetings. Many organizations have a bad habit of including everybody and their sister on meeting invites. This just wastes time and dilutes engagement. Don’t let this happen. Go back to the purpose of the meeting. Ask yourself:
· In order to accomplish our purpose, who needs to be in the room?
· Whose input, support, knowledge, or expertise is needed to reach the meeting goals?
Then, make sure those people are invited, available, and committed. If possible, try to limit the attendance of people who aren’t needed. Do what you can to invite the right people, and only the right people.
4. Open Effectively
Take the time to open your meeting properly. How meetings are opened portend how they proceed. A strong and clear opening sets the meeting up for success, while a weak opening invites disengagement, confusion, and disorder. As a meeting leader, it is essential that you graciously take control right from the start. People need to feel that they are in competent hands and that the leader is going to use their time well. It is your job as meeting leader to set the tone up front.
Meeting openings need to include:
· Opening Welcome: Officially open the meeting. Thank the participants for attending.
· Goals and objectives: Clearly state the meeting’s purpose, goals, and objectives. All too often people skip this critical piece which leaves participants either guessing at the objectives or bringing their own agenda to bear. Everybody needs to be super clear about the why and the what of this meeting!
· Motivate and Inspire: After you express the goal, take a moment to motivate the people in the room to participate. You chose them for a reason. Let them know you need their expertise, input, and wisdom to accomplish the goal. Let them know right from the start that they are the right people needed to accomplish the goal. Get them energized to participate.
· Introductions: Make sure people know who is “at the table.” Unless you are in a regular standing meeting or a team meeting, take the time to have participants introduce themselves. This not only helps build trust and relationships, but also helps participants discover the expertise in the room.
· Introduce Ground Rules: If you aren’t using ground rules, shame on you. (See #5 below!) Ground Rules (or meeting norms, participation agreements, etc.) are a critical element for effective meetings. Make sure everyone is clear about the ground rules.
· Review the Agenda: Take a moment to review the agenda and disclose the road map for the meeting. This will help participants stay on topic and focused.
· Icebreakers: Icebreakers are used when leaders need to energize and warm up participants. Like every conversation on the agenda, icebreakers need to have a purpose. The icebreaker should support accomplishing the meeting’s objective. For example, if you need to build relationship and trust among the group, then choose an icebreaker that is focused on that. But if your meeting is about problem-solving or brainstorming, then choose an icebreaker that gets the creative juices flowing. Bottom line: icebreakers with no purpose will fall flat and may alienate participants right from the start.
5. Use Ground Rules
Ground rules spell out the rules of the road for how to behave and interact in your meeting. Ground rules clearly articulate and encourage the desired behaviors and discourage the undesired behaviors that derail meetings. Properly communicated and enforced ground rules will take care of 99% of dysfunctional meeting behavior. Ground rules give you and other participants the “permission” to redirect derailing behavior. Customize your ground rules to the meeting at hand. Ground rules need to be clearly articulated and agreed upon at the start of the meeting. Make sure that participants know that it is EVERYBODY’S JOB to enforce the ground rules. A few all-purpose ground rules include:
· One conversation at a time: We listen to who is speaking, and we don’t carry on sidebar conversations.
· One topic at a time: If we are talking about “X”, we don’t go on tangents to talk about “Y” until we are done with “X”.
· Land the plane/Bottom lining: We try to be succinct and to the point.
· Don’t beat a dead horse: We don’t keep repeating ourselves or revisiting decisions already made.
· E-etiquette: We agree on how we are using (or not using!) electronic devices in our meeting.
· Full engagement: We agree to be fully invested and engaged.
· Timeliness: We agree to show up on time, start on time, and end on time.
· Share the air: We consciously try to make space for everybody to contribute (e.g., extroverts make space for introverts!) below!) Ground Rules (or meeting norms, participation agreements, etc.) are a critical element for effective meetings. Make sure everyone is clear about the ground rules.
6. Park Things in a Parking Lot
A parking lot (or bike rack, holding tank, etc.) is a metaphorical place to record important ideas, conversations, etc. that need to be addressed—but not at this meeting. This is a technique that helps keep the meeting from being derailed by conversations that are important, but not germane to the meeting at hand. When the group starts to discuss something that may be connected to the topic, but not essential to this meeting, simply redirect it to the parking lot. It is helpful to record parking lot items on flip charts or whiteboards, making them visible to participants. Be sure to address next steps for parking lot items at the end of the meeting.
7. Manage Participant Behavior
This 1864 vintage illustration features a female lion tamer.
It is your job as meeting leader to intervene on behaviors that derail meetings. It is your job to set the climate for engagement by encouraging productive behavior and discouraging unproductive behavior. Nothing thwarts engagement like letting bothersome behavior run rampant in your meeting. To make matters worse, allowing unproductive behaviors to go unchecked breeds more unproductive behaviors. For example, letting one participant dominate the conversation creates fertile ground for others to disengage, drop out, or disappear into their electronics. If you have ground rules, this is when you and others enforce them. Need help in finding the right words? These resources can help:
8. Recap and Follow Up
One of the biggest blunders people make when leading meetings is failing to record, recap, and follow-up on action items, next steps and important meeting outcomes. Because most meetings create work and action items for the participants, it is the responsibility of the meeting leader to ensure all action items are actionable and understood. Simply put, every action item needs to be articulated, recorded, and confirmed. Every action item needs three things: 1) Clear deliverable; 2) Owner; and 3) Due date. A simple chart like the one below can help track these items.
Meeting Recap Template
It is the meeting leader’s responsibility to follow up on action items! While the meeting leader may delegate this responsibility, it is her job to make sure follow-up happens. Follow-up memos, email, telephone messages, and other forms of reminders are helpful. Sometimes it is useful to schedule a check-in meeting after a few days or weeks, depending on the cycle-times involved, to have people report on their progress in completing agreed upon work. Check-in and follow-up activities help enforce deadlines for deliverables.
9. Close and Appreciate
Congratulations! You’ve just run an effective and productive meeting. Make sure you end it on a high note. Take the time to officially close the meeting and thank your attendees for their participation, input, and collaboration. Time is our most valuable resource; be sure to show your appreciation to the people who gave you their time. Reinforce that you value their contributions.
Bonus Tip: If you want to make sure you are leading effective meetings, take five minutes at the end of your meeting to do a quick evaluation. Try doing a quick plus/delta with your participants. Simply ask the attendees:
· Plus: What worked well with this meeting?
· Delta: What could we do differently next time to make it even better?
Getting input and feedback from your meeting participants helps you ensure your meetings are effective and engages participants in future meeting design.
The ability to lead effective meetings from wherever one sits is an indispensable leadership skill in every industry. It’s time to stop throwing away time and money and learn how to lead meetings that matter.