Making meetings effective

meetingI’m a big fan of meetings. Well run, effective meetings, that is. Too often meeting are poorly run and a waste of time but that’s no reason to abandon what can be a powerful tool for communication.

This topic came up the other day over pizza with a couple of friends, one of whom was having some challenges with his team meetings. Every year they would start off with good intentions but as time pressures grew the meetings became more irregular, got postponed and people missed them or did other stuff during the meeting. He was almost going to give up but he could see the co-ordination and sharing was really critical to the team.

I questioned him about how he set the meetings up, what their agenda was and how he ran them. It turned out it was more of an informal chat than a structured event. They were all good friends and socialised outside of work, so they sort of knew what each other were up to.

This is quite a common situation, particularly in small teams and organisations. The high level of informal communication stops things getting out of hand and any dramas can be quickly identified and resolved, so everything sort of bumbles along and sort of works. However, it’s not an effective way to work and can lead to some nasty surprises.

My advice was to re-design the meetings so that they were effective and beneficial to everyone by creating a common understanding of what the meetings were for, the structure in which they worked and how people were to behave in them. Some ways to do this are:

  • Have a set date and time every month for the meeting.
  • Have a maximum time for the meeting to last.
  • Have a set agenda, with room for people to raise any other business.
  • Have structured, conversations around each topic, and set a time limit on each.
  • Produce clear minutes and action points, each allocated a person and time for completion

I also gave him some suggestions on headings that encourage people to ask for help, share what they had learnt, and talk about their successes.

The structure means you can keep the meeting on track and give space for the team to work collectively on problems and learnings. Keeping to time ensures it is continues to be respected and valued. Note down issues that need further discussion arrange a separate meeting to do that (it’s a good idea to have a process for doing this and tracking what happens).

A key part of running an effective meeting that is often overlooked is the set-up, however. Be very clear to people what is expected of them, how they should behave, and how they will benefit. The meetings should be a trusted space where team members can come together and challenge and support each other.

There may well be some friction and heated arguments – that’s good, it shows commitment, passion and creativity – but it is in the spirit of mutual respect and a common desire to improve and excel. Disagreements are not to be taken outside the meeting, they are not personal.

Meetings can be incredibly effective if they are set up and run properly. The role of the meeting leader is to create a space that the team respect and value and can use to work together more effectively and grow as a unit. This will release the power of the team and that’s when the real magic happens.

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