“A meeting is a gathering where people speak up, say nothing and then all disagree.”  – Thomas Kayser

Meetings are a dichotomy. If run well, they can be a great way to move forward, connect and build important working relationships and creatively solve issues or challenges. At worst, they are a complete time waster and demotivator. In my experience I have found (for the most part) the latter is more frequent.

Ineffective meetings

Poorly managed meetings are a significant cause of disharmony, stress, and a multitude of other issues in organisations.

In researching for this blog, I was shocked at the statistics that emerged regarding how much time is wasted in organisations through meetings. It has been said there is no such thing as a ‘free lunch’.  I would like to add there is no such thing as a free meeting either.

Managers spend up to 70 percent of their time in meetings, so ensuring they are effectively run is well worth our attention.

Not only are meetings generally poorly run, there are too many of them and they are often too long. Consequently organisations are rife with people exhausted and stressed as a result of watching the work pile up on their desk and space disappear from their calendars, whilst meetings that fail to serve a purpose and achieve results take precedence.

Here are some simple ways to run effective meetings:

1. Ask yourself the following questions:
Is the meeting necessary?
What is the purpose?
What does it seek to achieve?
What will a successful outcome look like?
Does it require face to face exchange of ideas and discussion or can it be done through another medium, such as an email discussion?

2. Decide who needs to be there (and more importantly who does not). A large percentage of people attend meetings they don’t need to be at. Often a smaller group can be more effective – outcomes and action points can then be communicated to others afterwards.

Only invite team members working directly on the key project/s that will be discussed, decision-makers, or specialists who have vital knowledge required for the group to fully understand an issue.

3. Process and rules of engagement.  Spend time before hand defining how decisions will be made. Also consider what is important for each member to contribute fully and equally. Introverts, for example, may like some key questions from the agenda to be distributed before the meeting, allowing time to put forward their ideas on paper and think about how they will contribute.

Also, confirm the group’s stance around potential disturbances such as the use of mobile phones. Establishing time to look at the ‘ground rules’ will reduce the chance of the wheels falling off later.

4. Facilitate.  Whoever is in charge for facilitating the meeting must attend to group energy, group dynamics and aim to strike a balance between allowing sufficient discussion without going off track.

Click here to read more on group facilitation techniques (from Spirited Leadership).

Keep in mind what meetings are not for.  Meetings are not the place for giving team updates – when the information flows one way consider sending an email instead. They are also not an appropriate time to berate people who are off track or under-performing – instead address non performance in a one-on-one meeting. Nor are meetings the right time to whip up motivation – this is a daily and constant leadership challenge.

5. Confirm action points and a way forward. There is rarely anything more frustrating than sitting in a meeting for an hour where there is a big talk fest, but no defined action points or a clear conclusion at the end.  Ensure time frames are attached to tasks and responsibilities.

6. Review the agenda. Finally, give the agenda a brief audit and ensure all items have been addressed. If you have not covered all points consider whether there were too many allocated, or too much time spent on each.In large meetings it can be a good idea to give each agenda item a time allocation. This can make it easier to enforce if people go off track or spend too much time on a particular subject.

Conducting effective meetings is a skill so often overlooked, but worthy of mastering.

 What tips do you have for running effective meetings?