When everyone is time poor, but communication is key, how do we make our meetings add, not subtract, value?
When I returned to work part time, I quickly realised that time management was going to be one of my greatest challenges. One hour of my time is now a greater proportion of my working week than it was before and I don’t have the opportunity to make it up after hours. Added to this, our business operates in an increasingly tight environment, which means that more than ever, time is money, and productivity is vital to success.
One of the major time consumers in today’s world is the meeting – “we should meet to discuss that”, “let’s add that to the agenda for the meeting”, and even “we should meet to prepare for tomorrow’s meeting”. Breaking down silos, working together globally, and getting answers efficiently can all require a lot of face to face time, but how do we manage that along with actually getting things done? I believe there are five key things to remember when discussing meetings.
1. Do we need a meeting?
We should ask ourselves why we are organising the meeting – what are our aims?
- Making a decision
- Planning the next stage of works and allocating actions
- Disseminating information and ensuring it is understood by everyone.
If I can’t clearly define both an objective and a required outcome for the meeting, then I consider dealing with the issue another way. I make some calls, review the available information, and keep moving forward until a meeting is absolutely necessary.
2. Proper planning
In the interests of preventing poor performance - plan! Put together an agenda, which considers the following:
- What do we need to talk about?
My tips for creating a good agenda are:
- Always review any standard reoccurring meeting agenda and tailor it as necessary Keep the main headings constant and change the questions for discussion (these questions are the most useful part of the agenda)
- If you’re sharing information, send it out well in advance and ask people to read it themselves rather than have it read to them
- Unless the purpose of the meeting is to ensure everyone understands the finer points of the information, a one paragraph summary should be sufficient to present at the meeting.
3. Stay on topic
While there are exceptions, unless a conversation is adding value to the majority of the people in the meeting, I am a fan of the car park, or more informally “taking it outside of the meeting”. To run a “car park”, I:
- Maintain a list of these discussion items; or
- Minute them as an action to be finalised outside of the meeting; or
- List them on a whiteboard.
It’s important that people don’t sit through an extended discussion they can’t contribute to, which is why I make time post-meeting to follow up on these and make sure the conversation happens.
4. Embrace technology
It’s frustrating to sit in a meeting where it seems like nobody is listening and everyone is checking their email. It’s also frustrating to sit in a meeting where you feel you only have a valuable contribution to one part of the meeting and the rest is wasting your time. I’ve found you can either sit like Canute and try and stop the tide, or, like Kelly Slater, go with the flow and make it work for you.
Here are my tips to help counter these issues:
- Ask people to put their phones, laptops and tablets away and to focus on the meeting. Explain what value they can add and what value they could get.
- Ask that if people do use their electronic devices during the session that they keep the usage to a minimum, use it to add value, and refrain from dealing with emails etc. It’s worth noting the expected timeline for issuing minutes.
- Keep the discussions moving and on topic – don’t give people chance to get bored, zone out, and reach for their phone.
- Consider holding the meeting online. This can be particularly useful for a large meeting where people will only contribute to particular sections, allowing them to continue work while waiting for their moment.
5. Record the meeting
It’s an obvious statement, but unless it’s written down, it didn’t happen. Unless people are issued with minutes within 24 hours of the meeting, the discussions have faded from memory and will be unlikely to be top of their priority list.
When documenting a meeting, make your minutes easy to read, and consider what the objective of the meeting was.
- Do you need to document every discussion, or simply say “The pipe route was discussed and agreed as sketch number 1”.
- Actions should be clear and able to be understood by someone who wasn’t present. They should include a responsible person, an outcome, and a deadline.
- Attach the information that was circulated before and presented during the meeting, either as copies or links, so all necessary materials are easily accessible for reference.
And finally, if you expect something to happen, then follow up in advance of the deadline and check in to see that it is underway. There is little point in arriving at the next status meeting and simply listing actions that haven’t been completed.
That is how I aim to keep my meetings short, to the point, and valuable. What are yours?