Meetings. They fill our days. And let’s be honest: most of them are unproductive or poorly managed. The result is that we waste a lot of time that most of us don’t have available to waste; we are already overcommitted.
Like it or not, meetings will always be part of the workday, so it is critical that you make them effective (they achieve what they should do) and efficient (they do it in as little time as possible). Remember: the value of meetings is what they accomplish or inspire, not just the act of meeting.
In my more than 20 years of coaching, consulting and working to amplify performance, I’ve discovered three things you can do to amp up the effectiveness of your meetings.
1. Make it Personal. Meetings are more effective when those attending can relate to each other. For that, we need to remember that we are each human. So consider starting each meeting with a quick run around the room, asking everyone to share any of the following:
- What is the best thing that has happened to you today?
- What is something personal that you want us to know about?
- What is a success or achievement that you are proud of?
- What is something that we would never have guessed about you?
When we share our humanity, we connect at a deeper level, which encourages greater sharing of ideas, less apprehension to contribute and, therefore, more productive meetings. Connecting personally builds a stronger bond than just meeting to solve problems, discuss ideas or share information.
Devise a bank of questions you can open your meeting with to help those involved see their shared humanity.
2. Define the objectives and expectations. According to Habit #2 in Stephen Covey’s book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, “begin with the end with mind.” With clarity of a direction, goal, objective or expectation, the meeting can police itself to stay focused. Without this clarity, a meeting can run in all directions, distracting the participants and wasting time.
I call this defining the goalpost. Ask yourself: what will we have to achieve to make this a successful meeting? Define it. Share it. Hold all meeting attendees to its achievement.
3. Use an agenda to stay on task. This might seem like a no brainer, but some of the most ineffective meetings are often the result of running with an unclear agenda, or no agenda at all. Even with clear objectives, meetings can wander because of the diversity of the meeting members. Use an agenda to stay focused on what matters and to stay committed to the time allotted to each topic. And ensure your meeting has a time or agenda manager, someone who keeps everyone accountable for their time, contribution and ensuring the meeting continues to move forward.
Nobody has unlimited time; it’s why seeing your calendar fill up with meeting after meeting can be so frustrating. So, make the time to define the topics that need to be covered, understand the time required to adequately discuss each topic and identify the goal(s) of the meeting. This creates the ability to use time wisely and to ensure the meeting attendees to stay focused.
I never attend a meeting I don’t have an agenda for. An agenda is not only a time saver, but it also helps me know how to prepare, how much time I will need to provide and what the meeting will accomplish. With this information, I can be effective in supporting it and making good use of my and the meeting’s time.
Before you attend your next meeting, insist on knowing the objective or goal of the meeting and see the agenda. Then, once in the meeting, be sure to first make it personal and be committed to living to the focus and time define in the agenda.
Meetings are truly an invaluable tool when they are organized and run correctly. They can be the place where great things happen, or they can be an abject waste of time. Take control of them to get them to deliver great things for you and your organization.
By Jay Forte
Consider reading Managers: How to Identify and Correct Your Blind Spots