How do we manage effective meetings? It’s been said that there are only two kinds of activities in an organization. Attending meetings and answering the phone for colleagues who are attending meetings!
Meetings! How often do we hear: there are too many, they are too long, and they are too badly run. Yet meetings are crucial to the function of any organization. Being able to run a meeting is a crucial skill for any effective manager.
So how do we manage effective meetings?
The starting point for managing effective meetings is to understand them. Starting with this fundamental question: why we meet? There are many valuable and valid reasons for meeting:
- To consult by giving or receiving advice;
- To make decisions;
- To share information;
- To solve problems;
- To generate creative ideas;
- To enable face to face contact;
- To negotiate or influence;
- To benefit from several minds, all focused on one problem;
- To brief – for example, give information to a group;
- To review – give a progress report on a project;
- To develop teams;
- To ensure the same message is given to all;
- To make effective use of time – if our meetings are effective!
So before calling a meeting, make sure you’re clear in your own mind why you’re calling it. Ensuring your meeting addresses some of the above reasons is a good place to start.
Type of Meeting
Meetings may be formal or informal. Formal meetings tend to be a part of the fabric of an organization. These may have written remits and be a part of a hierarchy of meetings where reports are tabled. Formal meetings will often consist of such things as:
- A pre-arranged meeting time or schedule;
- An agenda – a description of items to be discussed;
- A set of minutes – a written record of the issues discussed at the meeting;
- A chairperson – to lead, co-ordinate or control;
- An administrator or secretary – to keep a record of the meeting;
- An agreed process and procedure.
Alternatively, informal meetings typically don’t require the same structure or processes. For example, informal meetings may involve:
- Being arranged randomly or at short notice;
- Unstructured discussion;
- No procedures or process;
- Anyone taking the lead;
- The noting of action points – things individuals agreed to do.
Two of the main reasons for arranging meetings are to make decisons and to solve problems. Our series on decision making explains the different types of decision making and provides essential advice and processes which may be helpful for your meetings. Perhaps the obvious starting point should be decision making lesson: is there actually a decision to make?
Our seven step problem solving process introduces some tools and techniques to help you solve problems effectively. The series on problem solving includes a wide range of processes and activities, which can be used in meetings.
Effective Meetings: the Basics
Rule number one:
Only hold a meeting if it’s absolutely necessary! If you’re calling the meeting, make sure it’s really necessary. Could you achieve its objectives in any other way? Think about the cost in time, money and resource use. Don’t manage your business with busyness!
If you’re being called to a meeting, ask yourself: do you really need to attend? For many people, the number of meetings they’re asked to attend can have a significant effect on the time they actually have to get things done. Even if it’s your boss who has called the meeting, try to be objective!
One of the most important elements of effective meetings is to ensure the right people are present. It might be useful to think of Reg Revans’ “3 who’s” when we are inviting people to meetings: who knows, who can and who cares. Only invite people who need to be present or who can make a worthwhile contribution.
Another key to effective meetings is your reputation! Try to build a reputation for running meetings well. Think about the advice above. Involve and engage others, and try to use the meeting to make decisions that promote action. One major concern with meetings is that they replace real work, and become talking shops with no action. Develop your meeting skills so that real work is achieved and facilitated, by running effective meetings. How do you do this?
Before the meeting:
- Ensure you really need the meeting;
- Set specific, realistic, achievable goals;
- Prepare and distribute an agenda and any (necesssary) supporting documentation;
- Issue a start and finish time for the meeting;
- Estimate time for agenda items in advance;
- Invite only key people, not everybody you can think of;
- Be prepared!
- Start on time;
- Keep the group on track;
- Make decisions, don’t just air views;
- Summarize and record decisions;
- Keep people involved – remember they are there for a reason;
- Control dominating characters;
- End on time.
- Send minutes to participants;
- Follow-up on agreed actions;
- Debrief with key figures;
- Assess the content of the meeting – what came out of it;
- Assess the process of the meeting – what needs to change from it.
Manage Both Process and Content
A useful way to think about a meeting is to divide it between managing process and content.
The content of the meeting is:
- why the meeting has been called;
- what needs to be be done;
- who should do it;
- when should it be done;
- what information is needed.
The process of the meeting is ensuring that:
- people’s interactions are managed;
- contributions are shared around the group;
- agreement is active not passive;
- digressions are managed;
- decisions are made using fair decision making processes.
Hopefully these ideas will get you on the way to running effective meetings. Meetings should really be about the meeting of minds, from which purposeful results follow.
Our final tip is to get some practice. There’s no substitute for applying the techniques outlined in this article, and for reflecting on how your meetings go. If you are inexperienced at running meetings, start by taking note of the meetings you attend. Emulate the style and skill of someone who does run effective meetings. Then volunteer to run a meeting yourself. Perhaps starting with an informal meeting where skills can be developed without the pressures associated with more formal meeting structures.