One of the many things I love about my job is coming up with new workshops, such as ‘How to make meetings work’. People are telling me – and it’s been my observation – that meetings can hijack heaps of our time. So I wanted to share these 6 tips to help you wade through and out of the meeting swamp.
1. Have an agenda – and stick to it
This may seem old school yet it’s still essential. If you haven’t got clear objectives for your meetings, you can easily end up wading through a shopping list of ‘discussion points we need to talk about’. Why do you need to be a meeting? What purpose will it serve? Only when you can answer this question will you be able to define the objectives for your meeting. These should be clearly stated on the agenda. Then list the items that need decisions/actions in order to achieve the objective, with time allocated clearly shown for each.
2. Have the right people in the room
Only when you have your objectives will you be able to identify the essential cast of characters who must be there. Anyone who hasn’t a role in the meeting need not be there. If someone thinks they’re too important to attend, but has a habit of overruling decisions later, they need to be there – or back off.
3. Assign roles
You need a Chair – the person who runs proceedings, facilitates discussion, gets everyone’s contribution (and wrangles any grandstanders), and moves the discussion along. Chairs can be from any level as long as those present are prepared to be led by them (not all organisations can cope with this, yet I’ve seen less senior Chairs work really effectively).
You also need a Time-keeper – who informs the Chair and everyone else when there’s just 5 minutes, 1 minute left to deal with a point.
You need a Note-taker – someone who can quickly, clearly and accurately record what was agreed, what actions need to happen, by whom and by when.
4. Use the right tools for the job
- Brainstorming ideas? You probably don’t want to be hemmed in around the edges of a vast boardroom table. Space, natural light and a variety of stimulus materials are what’s needed.
- Making decisions? Use visual tools, such as a Force Field Analysis, or 2 x 2 matrix, to capture and visualise the discussion and decision.
- Agreeing a schedule? Create a hand-drawn Gantt chart with dates so that everyone can see what’s happening when – and the knock-on effect of any delays.
5. Break big groups up
More than 8 people can get unwieldy and slow things down. What’s more, whole group or plenary discussion is prone to being monopolised by grand-standers and the more dominant members of the group. So break larger groups up into pairs, trios or four at most and give them a task to complete, a time to do it by, and the materials to visualise and display their output.
6. Wrap up and follow up
Too many meetings end with people dashing off before the end as they’ve overrun. So stick to time and be sure the Chair summarises what’s agreed on each point as you work through the agenda. Tip: capture actions/what/who/when on a flip chart or magic whiteboard and distribute a photo or screen shot after the meeting. At the end of the meeting, wrap up by reminding everyone what’s been agreed and thank everyone for their contribution. Circulate any notes as soon as possible, keeping these brief and focused on what was agreed, what happens next.
Dawn is the author of ‘How to be Zoomly at work’, available on Amazon