Do you work in a “meeting rich culture?” Do you suffer from meeting dread, or the inability to stay alert sometimes at the dreaded post-lunch project status update? It happens to the best of us (as well as to the rest of us). You’d think that we’d get better at meetings the more we meet, but in my experience, teams that have the most meetings are often the worst at them.
I lead an hour-long meeting once a month for a fairly large team. The first one was a total bust. I knew what I wanted to cover, but didn’t plan enough. Since them, I’ve made improvements and had a lot of positive feedback. I spend more time planning the meeting than we spend in the meeting. But if you think about it in terms of person-hours – my three hours of prep work for a one-hour meeting attended by 30 people looks like a better investment if it’s a more valuable hour for those 30 folks. Preparation is the biggest favor you can do for your meetings and the people who attend them.
Tactics I’ve found to be effective:
Prepare slides that align with the agenda. Even if a slide is just “who has something to add to the calendar?” Give them something to look at to engage an additional one of their senses.
Share the agenda in advance and invite comment. Anyone want to add a thing? Engage people in advance of the meeting so they’re not walking in cold. This also sets it up as a conversation environment, not just a lecture.
Assign parts of the agenda to other people. Special guests from Legal or Procurement can address process pain points or provide updates. Break down those silos! Make sure that your speakers know their responsibilities and position in the lineup in advance, so they can prepare and don’t feel put on the spot.
Have a clear leader. Someone needs to kick off the meeting, introduce the agenda, declare the desired outcome, and keep the team on track. It doesn’t have to be the boss, and it can be a rotating responsibility to make sure that everyone is invested and that no one phones it in every time.
Mix up the timing. Why stick to the half-hour or hour-long format? If you just need a quick check-in make it 15 minutes. Make a longer meeting 45 minutes so people have time to prepare for their next meeting. Do not hesitate to end a meeting early. I promise, no one will be disappointed.
Stick to the agenda. You can always take things offline or set up another meeting. But make it a practice to stay on track.
Attendees, don’t just sit there! You can prep, too.
• Familiarize yourself with the topic. If you don’t know why you’re invited, ask.
• Review any materials in advance.
• Know your role in the meeting and plan to contribute as appropriate.
• Put “I’d love to follow up with you about that” in your vocabulary. Do your part to keep things on track, or to bring any wanderers back to the agenda.
I’m fortunate now to do some work for a large company that is actively addressing their meeting culture and quality. They’re making genuine progress and it’s making a huge difference in our day-to-day. Fewer meetings isn’t the important metric here – we still meet a lot. We’re just getting better at it.
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