19/06/2013 - 15:07

Making meetings more meaningful

19/06/2013 - 15:07

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For meetings to have any value, there needs to be a clear purpose or agenda, and everyone needs to be prepared.

Making meetings more meaningful

For meetings to have any value, there needs to be a clear purpose or agenda, and everyone needs to be prepared.

We've all sat through them. Interminable meetings where nothing ever seems to get resolved, where the purpose of the meeting is never made really clear, where the same people always arrive late, and where people walk away with action items they’ll never action.

We follow this pattern day in, day out, sometimes for hours every day.

Is it any wonder we’re all feeling stressed about the amount of ‘real’ work we have piling up on our desks; work we’re unable to get to during normal working hours, which if we don’t tackle grows more pressing by the day?

The problem is that very few meetings are made meaningful. Some of the largest companies hold meetings after meetings after meetings, but it’s surprising just how poorly they are run, even in companies that should know a whole lot better.

Here are some tips to make your meetings considerably more meaningful, both in terms of the interaction itself and the results you can expect from each gathering.

Decide the purpose of the meeting

The first thing you need to consider if you’re calling a meeting is: what is its purpose? If it’s just a situation report meeting where representatives from sales, marketing, accounting, customer service, production etc are gathering to share where they’re up to, consider holding a stand-up meeting. This keeps things brief, energised and focused.

Decide who should attend the meeting

You probably don’t need everyone at every meeting. Be selective. There’s nothing worse than attending a meeting where you can see no relevance to your work. It’s just a waste of time – yours and everyone else’s. Ask yourself who needs direct involvement with what you’re meeting about and who would be better off receiving a summary in writing after the event, just to keep them in the loop?

Prepare in advance for the meeting

Preparing for a meeting means giving thought to how you want the meeting to be structured, what outcomes you’d like to see arise from the meeting and how people should communicate during the meeting. It’s essential to prepare and share the meeting agenda in advance. People need time to think about what is going to be covered, so that they too can prepare for it. Teach people it’s unacceptable to come to a meeting unprepared – they’ll generally only do it once.

Chair the meeting with a firm but fair fist

No-one likes a dictator at the head of the boardroom table, but if you’re chairing the meeting you need to take a leadership role. It’s up to you to keep everyone on track and on time. It’s up to you to draw comment from the less vocal members of the team. It’s up to you to set the tone, explain the rules of engagement and deal with things like late-comers, negativity, the prima-donna who has to hog the floor, or the person tapping away on their mobile when they think no one’s looking.

Put yourself in the attendees’ shoes

If you really want engagement and commitment to (and from) meetings, you need to think about what’s in it for the people attending. What will they get out of the meeting? How can you make it engaging for them? How can you make them feel that their contribution is essential and welcome?

Try different processes

Apart from the normal ‘let’s work our way through the agenda and then call for new business’ meeting model, consider trying other processes to create a framework for your meetings. Edward De Bono’s ‘Six Thinking Hats’ is a fine mechanism for getting people to think in the moment rather than in argument. ‘Facilitated brainstorming’ is useful if you need creative solutions to problems and ‘group-solve’ enables people to see the issue from many different viewpoints. Lastly, asking people to share how they feel and what their intentions are for the meeting is a powerful way to set the scene for a meaningful meeting.

Remember, you’re the role model

The success of a business unit is a reflection of the person leading it. Others will emulate your behaviour. So if you have a problem with late arrivals, look first to yourself; are you always on time. Secondly, look to the person they directly report to; how is their behaviour around time? If I’m late, I am, by my own behaviour, giving approval for everyone else to be late as well.

Making meetings meaningful is not difficult but it does take preparation and forethought. Holding meaningful meetings improves productivity in the shortest space of time. It also improves communication and engagement in the workplace. People are able to get to their ‘real’ work during normal hours and ‘real’ work gets done in meetings.

Dawn Russell is the Western Australian licensee for Intercept, which helps organisations develop an inspired and engaged workforce to deliver better performance outcomes.


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