7 Tips for Great Meetings
Here’s some disturbing math. In the last thirty years I have attended at least 1,600 meetings. Of those, I would estimate about a third were a waste of time, or it was not really necessary for me to be there. That calculates to the equivalent of about seventy five days, or a month and a half. Of those that were actually important, nearly all of them could have accomplished the business they were called for in about half the time they actually took. That’s another two weeks of my time that was wasted. For whatever else I’ve learned, this investment of time does qualify me to offer some advice about making the most of your meetings. Here’s the best of the best:
You’re Probably All Wondering Why I Called You Here…
Never plan a meeting without a printed agenda. Ideally, the agenda should be distributed among the attendees prior to the meeting. Most people already know that, but here’s what gets left out of many agendas: an expected outcome or decision, and a start and end time. This puts your attendees on notice that the meeting is not just for discussion, but for decision. It also adds a subtle, but powerful expectation to end the meeting on time. A meeting planned without such an agenda guarantees that it will last longer than it needs to, and that the discussion will go places you never intended.
No Grace For Tardiness
Always start your meetings on time. Inform latecomers what the topic of discussion is, but DO NOT stop the meeting to fill them in on what has been said so far. Doing so only trains them to continue to arrive late. Further, don’t make light of their tardiness by saying something like, “Well Larry, glad to see you could make it.” Acknowledge their arrival, name the discussion topic, then resume the discussion. I have actually seen the person leading the meeting yield the floor for the tardy person to explain why they were late to the meeting! Never reward rudeness, (which is what habitual tardiness actually is.)
In some cases, a quorum is needed to make decisions. It’s important to keep in mind that quorums are for decisions, not discussion. Start the discussion even if no quorum is present, and make the tardy person ask for the information they lack for the decision.
“I Know You Can All Read, But…”
Never call a meeting just to give information. That’s what memos and email are for. Unnecessary meetings are what account for much of the disdain that people often have for meetings. Taking the time to craft a carefully planned email or memo can often eliminate the need for a meeting, and save everyone’s time.
Empower Committees To Do Their Job
Don’t discuss projects that are assigned to committees in the general meeting. Don’t even allow it. The chairman should cut that off by saying, “We’ll let the committee whose responsibility that is make a recommendation at the next meeting.” Not following this advice virtually guarantees that committees will never meet and never do their work. Why should they? It’s just going to be decided and planned in the general meeting anyway!
“I Think We Talked About That…”
Create a record of the discussion and decisions of every meeting, even if the meeting is semi informal. It should include the decisions made, action needed, who is responsible for those actions, and a date for them to be completed. A copy should be sent to all the key attendees.
Input from All
Openly encourage participants to contribute their input, even if it is negative. Don’t criticize or ridicule ideas, but don’t allow participants to ramble or hijack the discussion to a different subject. If you are leading the meeting, that means lead it in the direction it needs to go. Don’t let it become a grievance forum. That’s for another time.
Always reiterate the meeting’s decisions and planned actions at the end of the meeting. That way if anyone had a lapse of attention or misunderstood it can be cleared up then, instead of coming back later to bite you with accusations of distorting the results.
I’ve seen every one of these mistakes made. Following this simple advice will go a long way toward avoiding the sighs and rolling eyes when the memo about the meeting lands on the desk.