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Make your meetings more effective

Discipline and preparation can pay off in big ways for you and your team
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Ah, meetings. They’re an essential way to align teams and drive work forward—and too often they’re also the bane of people’s existence.

“We’ve all been to a lot of bad meetings,” says Nyron Drepaul, a Senior Business Advisor with BDC Advisory Services. “Many people view meetings as a waste of time they could use for more productive things.”

Make sure your meetings are necessary

Workers with a negative experience of meetings typically look for excuses not to attend them. When they do show up, they’re usually unprepared—and more often than not spend entire meetings “multitasking” with their phones.

All of that adds up to an ineffective process for the whole team. Fortunately, there are easy and proven ways to change your meeting culture to be better organized and more respectful of people’s time.

1. Have a clear objective for every meeting

Drepaul points out that internal meetings are most susceptible to “meeting malaise,” as people tend to be more serious about and more prepared for external meetings with clients and partners.

He notes that internal meetings usually have one of three purposes:

  • a. Communication—to disseminate or receive information important to the team
  • b. Problem-solving—to come up with solutions to a specific challenge
  • c. Decision-making—to advance work by making key decisions as a group

Being clear about what the meeting is meant to achieve helps you decide who to invite and how to structure it—and gives you a goal to check against at the end.

If the purpose of your meeting is to make decisions, make sure those decisions actually get made before you adjourn.

2. Set and share an agenda

Once you know your meeting’s goal, set an agenda that’s designed to achieve it. Keep it focused—include only items directly related to the goal, and preferably no more than five. Share the agenda with participants ahead of time so they know what to expect and can come prepared.

3. Choose an appropriate time

First thing Monday morning, most people have email to catch up on and other administrative tasks to get them set up for the week. And by the end of the day on Friday, they’re probably already looking ahead to the weekend. So if you want them to focus, don’t schedule meetings at these times. If your team is spread out through multiple time zones, finding the perfect time for everyone may be tricky, but try to keep things within everyone’s standard working hours.

4. Be selective about who to invite

Different meetings will have different objectives and will therefore require different participants. It’s not productive to invite everyone to all meetings, so figure out whose inputs are needed, and only invite those people. Communicate decisions and other information to the rest of the team later via email rather than forcing them to sit through an unnecessary meeting.

5. Insist on preparation

If you want participants to present something, share their opinions or actively discuss a topic, let them know in advance and make it clear you expect them to arrive prepared. Set a good example by doing your own advance work, too.

6. Facilitate the meeting

Let participants know you expect their full attention. That means no side conversations, no working on other tasks, and no cell phones. Gently but firmly steer the team back to task if they get off-track and establish a protocol for speaking to minimize interruptions. Keep track of contributions to make sure everyone gets a chance to speak and one person isn’t dominating the meeting (including yourself).

7. Document decisions

“If the purpose of your meeting is to make decisions, make sure those decisions actually get made before you adjourn—and don’t rely on memory,” says Drepaul. “Nothing is more frustrating than rehashing the same discussions on the same topics meeting after meeting with no apparent progress.”

He suggests recording decisions in minutes along with action items, timelines and whoever’s responsible for doing them. That way, everyone has a common reference and record to go back to.

8. Make sure a meeting is really necessary

If you simply have information to share, a basic email or memo may be more effective than gathering everyone in a room. Save meetings for when you expect people to have questions or for there to be discussion about a particular bit of news. Drepaul also says that today, when technology is key to optimizing productivity, it’s important to strike an appropriate balance between physical and virtual meetings.

9. Ask for feedback

Drepaul says that while you can apply all of the above best practices to your meetings, every team is different—with different information needs, likes and dislikes.

“After any meeting, ask people what worked well and what could have been better,” he says. “That will help you tailor your meetings to the needs of your team and get the best results every time.”

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