Running An Effective Meeting
According to HR Grapevine, workplace meetings are causing anxiety to employees. Direct Blinds carried out research which shows that just over 48% of UK employees feel anxious about meetings. In addition, most of us have had that sinking feeling as we have realised that today is THAT meeting. The one where everyone rambles on inconsequentially for hours. The one that is used by certain staff to grandstand and by others to moan. The one-hour meeting that takes two hours. The meeting that results in no action points. The meeting from which you exit no wiser than you entered.
It doesn’t have to be this way though. Meetings can, and should, be an effective use of time. Here are some tips to make sure your meeting is not the one that your staff are dreading attending.
Meetings should have a purpose beyond allowing the lazy to sleep and the malcontents to trumpet. They don’t need to be called just because there is always a meeting on Thursday. They should have a clear aim and a purpose and there should be a goal and a measurable outcome for each point on the agenda. And yes, there should be an agenda. And minutes so that everyone can recall what was said and who has agreed to action each task. Ideally, the minutes should be taken by someone who is not participating in the meeting since it is not possible to present to the meeting whilst also writing notes. It is worth asking someone with experience of the task to take minutes to ensure that all the key points are properly recorded. If you do not have someone within your organisation who can carry out the task for you, there are freelance PA’s and VA’s, including myself, who can provide this service for you. Contact me to find out more.
Suitable reasons for calling a meeting include:
Disseminate information to many people at once.
Review progress on a joint project
Plan tasks involving multiple teams
Consult staff or teams about an issue that will impact all of them.
Team building activities.
But wait, before you call a meeting for information gathering purposes, is it necessary? Do you really need to have a meeting or would it be more appropriate to gain the information you need via a phone call? Could you request the information via email? Would a quick face to face with one key member of each team get you the information you need?
You still need to get everyone together to discuss the issue? Then call a meeting.
I really do need to hold a meeting.
Great. So you are going to hold a useful meeting that won’t waste time. Key to achieving this is to invite only people who need to be there. If someone only needs to provide a small piece of information, could they brief another attendee who can then bring up that point on their behalf? This means only one person from that team needs to attend.
What about the person whose specialist knowledge is critical to one agenda item? If they don’t need to sit through the entire meeting, can that item be discussed early in the meeting, allowing the person to leave at the coffee break?
Please send around an agenda so people know what is going to be discussed. Include supporting paperwork with the agenda. In general, the more supporting paperwork you have, the earlier you should send out the agenda and meeting pack. A good meeting requires well-prepared delegates. Sending the agenda and a forty page discussion document one hour before the meeting is setting yourself up for an unproductive meeting.
Please be clear about how long the meeting will take and then stick to that timing. Many executives will be attending a number of meetings each day. If your meeting over-runs, this will either impact subsequent meetings (in which case you will probably have an annoyed administrator on your case) or the individual will need to leave, possibly at a critical point in the discussion.
Don’t be tempted to allow “a bit of extra time in case things over-run”. If there is time to fill, it will get filled, not usually efficiently.
Please stick to the agenda. It is up to the chairperson to move the discussion along at the right speed to ensure all items are discussed. If a discussion looks as though it is going to run and run, the chairperson should suggest that this is discussed in detail at another time by those who have the greatest involvement or scheduled for further discussion at a future meeting following further information gathering.
At all times the Chairperson should be mindful of the aim of the meeting and ensure that all discussion contributes to that aim. If the discussion veers off into another area, it should be brought back to the matter in hand.
Any Other Business
The “Any Other Business” section of the agenda can cause Chairperson’s hearts to sink. This tends to be the point in the meeting where the chairperson needs to be particularly ruthless in controlling the meeting otherwise this section could end up longer than the main meeting.
Any Other Business is designed to cover items which arose in the time period between the agenda being sent out and the meeting happening. It is NOT the place for grandstanding, raising grievances, frustrations or complaints, scoring points over other teams, or ambushing the meeting with an idea which you have already been told cannot be progressed in the hope that raising it in front of higher management will somehow allow you to get the idea agreed.
Addressing the meeting.
If you are presenting to the meeting, keep it short and to the point. No grandstanding, waffling or blinding people with science or acronyms, please. A short point, well presented will carry more authority than a lengthy and slightly waffly answer. Your point will also be much easier to minute, allowing your pearls of wisdom to be properly recorded for posterity and allowing everyone who receives the minutes to clearly recall what your argument was and what actions they might need to take to assist you to move your project forward. Speak as clearly and concisely as you can. And if you don’t have anything useful to say… just keep quiet. It is never necessary to speak for the sake of letting others hear your voice.
And on that note, I will end this post.