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Meetings. We all have to attend them. Sometimes we actually need to. But it is an incredibly common bugbear of most professionals that meetings get in the way of actually doing work.
Our online survey last week asked: “What is the #1 reason meetings are a waste of time?”
It ended up being a tie for first place. More than 20% of respondents selected both “No set agenda or purpose for the meeting” and “Meeting turns into a pointless gab-fest because no-one is in control”.
One financial services manager I personally asked this question of did not draw breath for at least two minutes as he described (somewhat more colourfully than I will paraphrase here) his feelings about meetings: “I spend more than half my time in meetings on an average day. Frequently, the meeting commences and after about three minutes I find myself thinking ‘why am I here?’ There is no clear purpose, no set agenda, no notes are provided or taken, and no-one is assigned to any action items at the conclusion. Utterly pointless.
“Another thing I hate is when people attending the meeting have not come prepared by reading any of the pre-meeting information provided. Half of the meeting is wasted bringing them up to speed.
“It is also extremely annoying when the person who has called the meeting is unwilling or unable to maintain control over the pace and length of the meeting because they allow attendees to talk endlessly about the meeting’s topic or, worse still, get off topic altogether. Someone has to run the meeting, even with clients. Especially with clients. Some of the clients I deal with have all day to talk. I don’t.”
Knowing all of this, is there such a thing as a worthwhile meeting? Of course there is, but, as Dr Ken Hudson, author of the international series “The Idea Generator, The Idea Accelerator and Speed Thinking”, says: “I may be being harsh on corporate Australia, but making the most out of meetings seems to be lost on most managers.” *
So, what can be done? Here are some tips for effective meeting management to guide you (or your organisation’s meeting organisers – pass this on!) through preparing and running a meeting that people want to attend and actually benefit from **:
1 – Plan the Meeting: Effective meetings that produce results, begin with meeting planning. First, identify whether other employees are needed to help you plan the meeting. Then, decide what you hope to accomplish by holding the meeting. Establish doable goals for your meeting. The goals you set will establish the framework for an effective meeting plan.
2 – Make Sure You Need a Meeting: You may find that you can accomplish the meeting goals with an email discussion or by distributing and requesting information through the company newsletter. Make sure the meeting is needed and not just convenient for you – you’ll get better results from attendees.
3 – Ensure Appropriate Participation at the Meeting: If a meeting is the appropriate means to accomplish your goals, check with the participants who must attend for the meeting to succeed. The needed attendees must be available to attend the meeting.
4 – Distribute and Review Pre-work Prior to the Meeting: You can make meetings most productive and ensure results by providing necessary pre-work in advance of the actual meeting. The more preparation time you allot, the better prepared people will be for your meeting.
5 – Effective use of meeting time builds enthusiasm for the topic. It generates commitment and a feeling of accomplishment from the participants. People feel part of something bigger than their day-to-day challenges. Therefore, a well-facilitated, active meeting, that sets the stage for follow-up, will produce meeting results.
6 – Effective Meeting Facilitation: An effective facilitator, who keeps participants on track, ensures the accomplishment of expected, desired results from the meeting.
7 – Use the Pre-work in the Meeting: You reinforce the need for participants to spend the time needed upfront to review material that is integral to accomplishing the desired results.
8 – Involve Each Participant in Actions: Every work group has various personalities that show up for meetings. You have quiet co-workers and people who try to dominate every platform. Whether facilitating or attending the meeting, you need to involve each attendee in the accomplishment of the meeting goals.
9 – Create an Effective Meeting Follow-up Plan: During the meeting, make a follow-up plan with action items, including: the specific action item, the name of the person who committed to “owning” the accomplishment of the action item, the due date of the action item, and an agreement about what constitutes completion of the action item.
10 – Publish Meeting Minutes: Begin by publishing your minutes and action plan within 24 hours. People will most effectively contribute to results if they get started on action items right away.
11 – Effective Meeting Follow-up: Following the meeting, each person with an action item should also make a plan for their personal accomplishment of their commitment. Whether they write the steps in their planner, delegate the tasks to another staff person, or just complete the task, the individual is responsible for follow-up. So is the meeting planner. Your goal is to check progress and ensure that tasks are underway. Remember that what you ask about gets accomplished.
* Too Many Meetings Hurting Business
** Effective Meetings Produce Results: Tips for Meeting Management
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