How To Control Meeting Madness

Not getting the most out of meetings? Read these 10 (or is it nine?) tips.

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Not getting the most out of meetings? Read these 10 (or is it nine?) tips.

Does your diary fill up with back-to-back meetings every day? When I ask the leaders I work with this question, everybody nods. In fact, most feel overwhelmed by ‘meeting madness’.

Meetings can be valuable. There are times when we make shared decisions, review progress on projects, learn together and improve performance.

However, meetings can also be a terrible time consumer. Often, they’re longer (or shorter) than they need to be, involve too many people, are poorly planned, poorly chaired, lack focus, and aren’t properly followed up.

Below I offer some tips to help you avoid these common pitfalls and ensure that your meetings are positive and productive.

1.       Have a clear purpose and agenda in advance.

Although this sounds obvious, ensuring that everyone knows why the meeting is taking place and what it’s going to focus on will ensure that your meeting will be effective.

Make the purpose sound as interesting as possible, so people look forward to it and more committed to the meeting.

2.       Focused facilitation.

The role of a good chair or meeting facilitator is to maintain focus and ensure everyone contributes where relevant.

This is particularly important (and often quite challenging) during virtual meetings or when some attendees are together in one location and others are present on a screen or via a phone line.

3.       Set a clear process.

It’s important to have clarity around decision-making. Agree who has decision-making rights and what decisions, if any, are to be made in the meeting.

It is also important to encourage divergent and convergent dialogue to ensure that a range of views are taken into account, leading to a better-informed decision.

4.       Only include the relevant people.

Too many people in a meeting can make it difficult to focus. When you think about your agenda, think about who needs to be there to address each point. Often there are others who simply need to be kept updated rather than involved in every meeting.

5.       Set the rhythm to fit the purpose.

Develop a rhythm and routine for meetings to achieve the outcomes you need. So, for example, there is a great deal of value in a short huddle for a project team every morning. These meetings are quick check-ins to keep everyone on track.

The same team may meet up once a month for a project review, which needs more structure and more time.

6.       Try a walking meeting.

Most of us spend far too much time sitting down. If you need a half-hour catch-up with one or two other people in the same location, consider going for a short walk. It’s energising, often leads to better quality dialogue, and is good for your health. If you need to make a few quick notes, use your smartphone.

7.       Be robust about following-up.

Make sure that actions are taken forward and that colleagues take responsibility for them. Check-in regularly between meetings and hold each other accountable for implementation.

8.       Take time to reflect.

Create time and space for stepping back. Reflect on what went well, and what didn’t? Think about the behaviour of people in the meeting, the dynamics, how focused you all were.

Were some people distracted or disengaged while others did all the talking? When was the meeting at its most energised? Think about how you can overcome the negatives and build on the positives next time.

9.       You don’t need to fill all the available time.

Usually, meetings will take a full hour or two hours because that’s the time that’s been scheduled.

Stay focused on your purpose, create shorter meetings focused on specific issues to be resolved, and set a goal to finish 15 minutes earlier so people have a break before their next meeting.

And that’s why I'm offering nine top tips instead of feeling I have to offer you ten.

Dr Simon Hayward is CEO of Cirrus, honorary professor at Alliance Manchester Business School and author of The Agile Leader and Connected Leadership.

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How To Control Meeting Madness

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