Many people claim that meetings are a waste of time these days. For those who don’t know how to run them or why to have them, they probably are. But the idea that you don’t need any meetings is a bit silly — like banning something people don’t like just because they’re too lazy to regulate it.
More and more I see some companies who’ve stopped having meetings because the person who usually runs them refuses to admit they dawdle and use meetings to satiate their egos. No wonder so many employees are in ecstasy at the notion of not having to attend yet another aimless meeting.
Despite what some may think, a meeting doesn't have to take hours, nor does it have to be held in a special room. It can easily be a 10 minute gathering of relevant people at someone’s desk, or even via the telephone or Skype. But if it does have to be a more formal affair, there are ways and means to ensure it’s worth everyone’s time.
Travis Davis, President and CEO at Point N Time, has had more than his fair share of bad meetings over the years. In a recent interview, I asked him for some tips as to how companies could ditch their meeting mania but still make use of the concept of purposeful group gatherings. Here are his nine tips for holding productive, interactive meetings:
1. Have a Reason
Nobody wants to sit around and hear about other people’s general updates. All meetings should have a clear goal, a set of issues or strategies. If you must have an update meeting, keep it short and sweet and follow the trend of stand-up meetings, daily or weekly 10 minute check-ins where participants literally stand so as to keep things short and prevent chatter. If a particular issue crops up, call a quickie to deal with that particular issue without turning it into a 60 minute ordeal.
2. Only Gather Those People You Need
Whoever is calling the meeting should know their audience and ensure that no one is there unless they need to be, as well as knowing what each person is expected to contribute. If all you need to do is keep people informed, emails are a much better way to do so. You’d also be wise to encourage employees to feel empowered to ask why they need to attend. If they don't know, most likely that’s a hint to you that they don’t need to be there.
3. Have a Clear Agenda
Whether short or long, every meeting should have a written agenda. Having an agenda enables things to move quickly and helps to keep everyone on the same track. The agenda doesn’t have to be pages of text — a list of bullet points will do nicely. For example:
- Why you’re holding the meeting
- What you expect from each person as a result
- What you expect others to achieve
- What (if any) deadlines there might be
4. Stay Focused
Another way to make sure that meetings go as planned (or even better) is to prevent bad behavior by stressing clear objectives. Meetings often bring out the worst in people. Some people will naturally take power and create authority, while others became passive and dependent. The moment a power-struggle emerges, stop it right then and there and stick to the overarching agenda. By maintaining awareness as to each attendee's personality type, you can ensure that no one gets lost in the shuffle.
5. Pay Attention
Allow time for questions. Creating a collaborative and positive environment by truly listening (and notice what people are not saying). Validate opinions and remain unbiased by asking open-ended questions and allow for varied perspectives.
6. Don’t Waste Time
This starts at the top with the person who called the meeting. If your meetings have a habit of starting and ending late, you're sending a bad message and playing "meeting chicken." Sooner or later it gets worse and people think they can shuffle in as and when they like — or not at all. Keeping things timely encourages others to do the same.
7. Save it for Later
Why set an agenda only to allow other distracting subjects to arise unchecked? If the issue raised is a small one, save it for a gathering of those who need to hear it. If it’s a critical issue, set up a time and date for another meeting with the relevant players.
8. Get to the Point
Developing the right skills in order to run a meeting is just as important as running a business in other ways. It requires the ability to focus, be tactful but firm, leave your ego at the doorstep and ensure progress and engagement. Whoever is running the meeting needs to be accountable for keeping to the agenda. If anyone starts to ramble aimlessly, the leader needs to politely put a stop to it (“Great point, but we need to stick to the schedule.”). If this person is always intruding on meetings, either with aimless chatter or other inappropriate behavior, have a private word with them. Stay on point and keep it moving.
9. Keep Track and Follow Up
Someone needs to keep track of the basic outcome of the meeting, in particular the next steps that everyone is expected to take. In order to keep everyone on target and reduce confusion, salient points should be emailed out to all participants within 24 hours. You should always promote an atmosphere of personal responsibility, and encourage solutions as opposed to recriminations. Finger-pointing never serves progress.
What sort of experiences have you had with meetings at your company?
Editor's Note: Read more by Tom in Why Social Media is So Addictive (And Why Marketers Should Care)
About the Author
Tom Lowery is a writer, author, training specialist and entrepreneur with over thirty years of corporate experience.
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