Do the preparation task first. Then read the article and do the exercises.
We've all been in badly managed meetings: meetings that seem to go round in circles without any decisions being made; meetings that are dominated by the same few voices; meetings where people talk and talk with no clear purpose; meetings that seem to go on forever ...
A European survey found that the typical staff member spends 187 hours a year in meetings. The report suggested that 56 per cent of those meetings were considered unproductive. In a survey of office workers across the UK, it was found that each employee cost their company an average of £38.50 for every meeting they attended.
So how can we have more efficient, effective and even inspiring meetings? Here are six tips.
1. Set a clear agenda.
An agenda is a list of points to be dealt with at the meeting, in the order in which they will be discussed. If you have a long list of bullet points, consider prioritising the items and breaking each topic down into its key issues.
Indicate on your agenda how much time you'll be spending on each topic, who will be presenting or leading it and whether a decision or some kind of solution will be needed. Also, remember to send out the agenda a few days before the meeting so that participants have time to prepare.
2. Review the attendee list.
When we are busy, the last thing we need is an invitation to a meeting we don't really need to attend. So, consider carefully who needs to be there. Invite someone to a meeting if:
- the points on the agenda are relevant and the decisions will affect them
- they have expertise to contribute
- they have the authority to make the decisions required.
3. Keep the meeting focused on the agenda.
Follow the agenda and politely redirect participants back to it if you find that they have gone off-topic. Introduce the idea of 'parking' ideas and discussions that are not strictly relevant or urgent. This gives you the chance to acknowledge ideas and issues that might be important to the participants but which are not a priority right now. You can then follow up by including 'parked' ideas in the meeting minutes and exploring them at a different time.
4. Encourage participation and be sensitive.
The most vocal participants might not be the ones with the best ideas. Give everyone a chance to speak and encourage participation from quieter colleagues. However, avoid putting anyone on the spot. Also, be sensitive to underlying issues and emotions and help the group deal with conflict in a productive way.
5. Clarify, check and record.
Don't assume that everyone understands each other, especially when the meeting language isn't everyone's first language. Ask for clarification, summarise each time a point is made, check that the participants agree and ensure that decisions are made. Ask someone to take notes of what is being discussed and ensure that action points – tasks to be done and who will do them – are recorded in the minutes.
6. End the meeting on time.
Meetings that don't end on time can leave participants feeling tired, frustrated and stressed. So, assure your participants that the meeting will end on time and set the timer on your phone to ring about five to ten minutes before the end. Use the last five to ten minutes to summarise and bring the meeting to a close.
If we all make an effort to make every meeting we attend an efficient and effective one, meetings can help us communicate well and be part of a productive team.