GREAT MEETING!!! When was the last time you really thought that?

When was the last time you came out of a meeting energised and motivated?  Do meetings suck the life blood out of you?  A UK study showed we waste a year of our lives in meaningless meetings. 
Save your team from this fate!

Read on for my tips on how to invigorate your meetings and generate the best thinking, engagement and outcomes. 

Before you start

Unless you need active discussion, idea generation or problem resolution, you don’t need a meeting.  Meeting time should be kept sacred. Policy changes, statements of fact, updates, cascade of information, do not require a meeting.  Of course, it's very important to give people a forum to ask questions and get better understanding, but it does not usually require a full on meeting of minds.  

Ask yourself do we need this to be a meeting? What would happen if we cancelled? Is there a better way? Could you pick up the phone, do a quick video conference, visit someone for a face to face conversation, or even (health warning!) send an email, rather than impose another meeting on your team?  

How many hours in your week could you free up with this question?

Involving people for the sake of being inclusive is disingenuous, they will see through it and resent the waste of time.  I have experienced many meetings that are an exercise in hierarchy and control, where one or two people dominate and speak in statements, while the rest of the team are frozen with frustration, boredom or even fear.

If you decide you really do need a meeting, turn the agenda into a question - what challenge do you need to solve? By constructing a series of questions you ignite the thinking in the attendees ahead of the meeting, so they arrive with ideas and a point of view.

Who should attend?

Next, ask who has the answer to these questions? Consider the implications of the decision you are looking to make. If it impacts multiple departments/ people you probably need them in the meeting. Include the people you know will help you get the outcome you need.  Don't submit to the pressure to include (or exclude) people based on expected norms, seniority or expectations. You need the right people, not the people you feel you ‘should’ invite. This is particularly important if you anticipate certain people will derail, dominate or in some way sabotage your meeting. Often there are important stakeholders you need to influence, but tackle this outside of the meeting so they feel informed and engaged without taking their time (and possibly having to manage their presence) at the actual meeting.

Don't invite people who don't need to be there.  It's a waste of their time and the company's money, it's also dispiriting to sit through a meeting in which you can't add any value.  This Meeting Cost Calculator may be a little blunt, it does help you get a quick reality check on how much your meeting might cost your business.

Set Expectations

If you need quality discussion and debate, you need people’s best thinking. You need their genuine attention and engagement, you need them to feel appreciated and for their contribution to be heard.  If your team are used to be being invited to meetings that do not require them to be fully present, this will take adjustment.

It helps to set expectations with your agenda.  Consider:

  • No Powerpoint.  Powerpoint is the Death Eater of meetings.  It takes everyone’s attention to the screen and away from each other, silencing thoughtful debate.  If you must have it, limit each presenter to 3 slides with the rule of only images/ graphs or drawings
  • Allow 50% of time for discussion in each agenda item.  Tell each presenter to limit their content to half that of the slot and stick to this on the day.  Don’t allow interruptions to their time and ensure the remaining time is spent on discussion and decision.  Don’t fill the agenda slot for the sake of it, if you come to a quick decision, move on.
  • No phones, laptops, ipads or other electronic gadgets allowed.  Pen and paper only. We all know we work best when we don’t allow interruptions and distractions. If you need a meeting, you need everyone to be 100% present.  This is incredibly hard to implement if you have a culture of ill defined meetings. If people understand the importance of the meeting and their contribution to it, this is a natural rule to introduce and insist upon.

Start Well

It is so important to set the right tone from the outset. Be respectful by starting on time and greeting everyone. Inject a positive tone by going around the table, asking everyone to speak for 2 mins about a great thing that happened (either professionally or personally) in the past week. Lay out the agenda clearly, ensuring people understand what challenge you are addressing and what decisions you need. Ask for everyone to offer their best thinking throughout the meeting. You are not looking for an echo chamber of agreement, you want constructive, critical, independent thinking.

Cultivate Thinking and Listening

We have a big, loud family and people tend to talk over each other all the time.  To manage this we sometimes use a rule around our dinner table to have only one conversation at a time.  This ensures we listen to each other and everyone has a chance to be a part of the conversation and to contribute. The same rule should apply to meetings. Too often I have been in meetings where side conversations have undermined the agenda and the trust in the room. Insist on a single conversation which everyone is investing in.

Then break that rule! You can turbo charge the thinking your meeting produces when you introduce Thinking Pairs (Nancy Kline - the Thinking Environment). Pose a specific question and have everyone pair up with someone to think about it.  The pairs only speak to each other and take turns without interruption to say what they think each for 5 mins each. You then go around the room and ask for the best thinking from each of the pairs in turn.

Manage Logistics

Time back in a busy day is a gift, so delight everyone by finishing early.  You can only do this and achieve your meeting goals if you manage the time effectively.  This can be hard if you are also chairing the meeting and listening hard to your attendees.  Consider having someone attend to purely manage meeting logistics and listen to them when they say you need to move on to stay on track.

End decisively by agreeing actions, owners, timescales, accountability and follow up. Make sure your actions follow the SMART rule and that everyone is aware of what they need to do.  Don't fall into the trap of agreeing ownership of actions by anyone who is not in the meeting.

Finally consider doing a round of appreciation of each other. The power of genuine appreciation is amazing but can seem alien if your team are not used to candid, positive and real time feedback. This works really well when you go around the room and ask everyone to say one thing genuine and positive about what they appreciate about (say) the person on their left. This can be something they observed at the meeting or more broadly. If this seems too ‘full on’, start small by proactively appreciating people as they contribute throughout the meeting.

Keep these tips close to hand by downloading my Cheat Sheet on Planning a Great Meeting, just join my email list or login and you can download it straight away. It's a free gift from me to you.


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