Whether you work for a large corporation, run a small business, or volunteer for a charity, meetings of some form are probably a part of your life. I’ve heard many complaints about boring, time-consuming meetings, and yet I know that meetings are a vital part running any multi-person operation. It is during meetings that we share vision, clarify goals, identify potential pitfalls, work out details, and delegate tasks. There is often a lot to get done. Further complicating the “meeting” concept has been the recent shift to virtual interactions, where communication can be stilted and awkward. All of this begs the question, “How can I have a great meeting?”
Meetings that are efficient, effective, and positive have a couple of common characteristics. If you want your meeting to go well, work to ensure that it has the following characteristics:
Meetings flounder if everyone is trying to be in charge. One person should be tasked with keeping the meeting on track.
A start and stop time.
Nothing is worse than watching your time fizzle away in a poorly run meeting. Honor those who have arrived on time by beginning at the designated time. If it is clear that an item cannot be sufficiently handled before the meeting’s close, survey the group to see if the meeting can be extended. If not, reschedule remaining items to another meeting. Never assume that everyone can simply “stay longer.” In addition to the meeting time, be clear about where the meeting will be held, and if it is virtual, how to log in.
A clear agenda, circulated in advance.
Knowing in advance what will be discussed helps participants know what to expect and arrive prepared. You can either send an agenda via email, or post a cloud-based agenda (such as a Google doc) for all to see. This approach will reduce the amount of paper waste/clutter. In addition, an agenda provides a framework upon which to easily take minutes (even informally), which then becomes an archived record of previous agendas, decisions, and action items.
Nothing on the agenda that can be better handled in another setting.
Don’t waste people’s time with items that can be resolved by email, phone, memo, or other means. In addition, don’t use a large group setting to iron out details between only 2 or 3 attendees. Be alert during the meeting to identify when it is wise to move a discussion item offline to a smaller group.
A name next to every action item.
During meetings, it is easy to get excited about ideas. Unfortunately, it is also easy to end the meeting without actually assigning anyone responsibility for following up. When this happens, the good idea disappears in the mist. Ideally, at least one meeting attendee should be assigned the responsibility for tackling each task the group identifies, and reporting back on it to the group in the future.
A reasonable meeting time.
When scheduling meetings, it is a good idea to be respectful of those who will be attending. For recurring meetings, try to schedule them for the same time each week (e.g. Wednesday morning.) As a general rule, avoid Monday mornings and Friday afternoons, when most people have other priorities. If you are gathering a group who don’t regularly meet, use a tool such as Doodle poll to find out what works best for the great number of people.
An efficient environment.
It is hard to have a great meeting in a lousy setting. For in-person meetings, aim to meet in a space with a minimum amount of external noise and distractions, with enough seating for everyone, and a clear surface where people can place their things (computers, notepads, coffee cups, etc.). Also, consider having water and/or food, especially if the meeting runs over a mealtime. Since most people use digital tools, it is helpful to be in a location with a strong wifi signal. If you are hosting a virtual meeting, make sure you can be easily heard and seen, and in a location where you won’t be interrupted.
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When properly managed, meetings can be an important way to connect, grow and improve. What is your “ideal meeting” like?