When it comes to “how to” posts that proliferate the inter webs, recommendations for running effective meetings is all too common. Unfortunately, too much of what I’ve read is utter collaborative bullshit that does nothing to help me really organize effective meetings… and when I say effective meetings, I mean the kind of discussions that people are eager to support. Anything that is worthwhile just doesn’t happen, it takes hard work. So if you’re expecting this week’s entry to involve us holding hands and singing Kumbayah in a circle, then I’m afraid that I will sadly disappoint you this week… it’s time for you to move on.
So here it is. If your meetings or meetings that you attend are not efficient and are not an absolutely “value add” to your day, you have nobody to blame but yourself. “But it’s not my meeting”, you’re probably muttering under your breath right about now. And I repeat… during any meeting that you host or attend you have a responsibility to drive everybody involved to an efficient discussion. If you truly believe that your time is valuable, and if you really value how you allocate your time, then you need to fight to protect how every singe second of that time during your work day is spent.
So, now that we’ve established the attitude with which we will approach our meetings, let’s get on to Demon’s 6 Meeting Rules.
- Who: Okay, this makes common sense, (but i guarantee that we’ve all broken this rule) to only invite those that really need to be part of the discussion. How often have you invited somebody, or copied them on an invite out of courtesy, or because they were the boss, or because it was the “right thing to do”? Often, we are afraid of upsetting someone, but let’s go back to the value proposition… If your time is valuable, then assume that the time of others is as well, and don’t waste it! In the event that you must schedule a meeting without ample notice, make certain that you contact each invitee directly to ensure that they are aware that they are a critical part of the conversation – do not rely on e-mail notifications to do this… if it is key for them to be present, then do them the courtesy of a direct contact.
- What: Ensure that attendees understand that they are to come to the meeting prepared. Clearly communicate what is needed prior to the meeting. Hold attendees accountable when they do not and reinforce this behavior consistently… and doing this in the presence of the rest of the group sends a clear message that you’re serious. See Donaldson’s Second Law for a refresher.
- Why: Publish an agenda and include it in the meeting invitation. You’ll want to remain flexible enough to allow new items to come into the conversation, but recognize when a discussion heads off target or carries on too long and table the discussion. Make a note and commit to following up later – and ensure that you do follow up later… be consistent in this behavior so that people don’t feel that they are being pushed aside. But first and foremost, drive the meeting to stay to your agenda so that each item receives the coverage that you have intended. If this is your meeting, get done what you need – collaboration is one thing, but if I’m setting the agenda then there are topics that I know I want to get done. These are the priority… period.
- When: Start the meeting exactly on time and finish the meeting on time – this is a no brainer, and I see it in every single “best practices” presentation. But far too often, people are wishy washy in how they apply this discipline. If I’m hosting the meeting, and somebody walks in the door 1 minute late and the discussion is in full swing, I will make a point to stop the meeting to ensure that the invidual understands that they are late, and that they are now impacting everybody else in the room. And how do we handle a situation where we are attending a meeting that is long and begins to run into the next scheduled discussion? Quite simply, we stand up and politely excuse ourselves from the meeting, and move on…
- Attendance: I’m sure that you take attendance for your meetings, but what do you do with the information that you collect? If you’re going to take the time to do something, then there has to be some payoff at the end… Why else would you be doing it? I suspect that your answer has something to do with documenting who was there and who wasn’t so you can cover your ass later when an exec asks why something was not completed. If this is a recurring meeting, then you should be compiling the attendance and publishing a regular summary to the invitees and their managers as a means of communicating from whom you are regularly receiving support. At mid-point and end of the year this information should factor into the 360 performance reviews that you supply to your fellow managers. If it’s a one time meeting, then attach it to your meeting summary, which brings us to…
- Publish: If you do not, then you need to use a note taking software ( I and my staff currently use Microsoft One Note which is shared on a powerpoint server ). During the meeting, use the software to take notes and identify assignments as the discussion occurs. Again, this all comes back to clearly establishing expectations. Share the meetings minutes online so that people can go back and reference previous discussions. This way, there are no excuses for attendees or those who missed the meeting to not be aware of what occurred and what assignments were handed out. If you’re not sharing the minutes in a central location, then ensure that minutes are e-mailed to everybody who was invited. In addition to taking accurate notes, the key item here is ensuring that the nobody has to go hunting for information.
The six rules that we’ve covered here apply to meetings that we host, as well as those that we attend. When you experience a bad meeting, the only way to change that behavior is to share this with others and ask them to be more intentional in how they run their meetings. The risk is that you will continue to stand up and leave their meetings when they run long, and that the organization as a whole will suffer from poor meetings and lack of proper documentation. The benefit is that others will agree with you and begin to modify their behavior – and that others will adopt the behavior.
As always, be intentional…