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Death by meeting. Is there a cure?



Meetings: the bane of corporate existence. But do they have to be? Meetings get a bad rap because so many are poorly managed, and it’s not for lack of trying.  There are hundreds of approaches and even more articles out there on how to make meetings more effective. So why are they still so painful?  The blunt answer is that properly managing a meeting takes time and effort.  Time that most of us are woefully short on, often because of all those bad meetings!  If we took the time to manage them properly, we’d not only have more productive meetings, but I’d wager far less. In our experience there are a few things that must be done before, during and after any meeting to make it more effective.


BEFORE

Objectives: Before you do anything else, and I mean anything - don’t decide who needs to be there, don’t look for time just so you can grab it, don’t send invites - stop, and get really clear on what you’re trying to achieve.  Each meeting should have at least one clear objective, and ideally are to make decisions or gain alignment on something. If you find yourself writing an objective that starts with “share the status of” or “update the group on”, you may not need a meeting.  Information sharing can be done more effectively through other means.

Participants: To achieve your objective, who needs to be involved?  Write down those names and look at it again.  Are they all critical?  We often add people for awareness, or to manage perceptions and feelings, and it ends up, at best, a meeting that’s harder to manage, at worst, a waste of many people’s time.

Agenda: This is a given, every article will tell you to have an agenda.  Be sure to design your agenda to achieve your objective(s), and either stick to it, or ensure you’re making a strategic choice when you deviate. Here’s one we like


DURING

Roles: Facilitator, time manager, note-taker.  Sometimes the meeting leader plays all these roles, but it can be helpful to split them up.  This involves more people in the management of the meeting and allows more room for each role to be done effectively.  Sometimes it is actually detrimental for a meeting leader to play a certain role. If the meeting leader needs to take an active role in what may be an intense discussion, or if the group may be particularly challenging, a non-biased facilitator can make a world of difference (gratuitous plug, we are good at this).


Managing the conversation: This is where the magic happens.


  • At the start of your meeting, reiterate (they should have heard this in the invite) the objective(s), agenda in brief and share the roles people are playing (as applicable).  This is also when you set the stage for how you’ll keep the conversation productive.  

  • Throughout the meeting, capture key decisions and action items, reinforcing when the group is making collective progress, “did we just make a decision that…?”, “sounds like Joe is going to handle X by Y”.  You can do this on a flipchart or whiteboard, and/or use our meeting agenda/minutes template.  

  • Avoid dangerous rabbit holes by keeping a parking lot.  Get the group’s permission to stay on topic by discussing the parking lot up front.  When off topic things come up, you can collectively decide to place them in the parking lot.  

  • Finally, wrap up the meeting by recapping the key decisions and action items, ensuring all your key decisions come with a next step, and all your action items include who is accountable and by when.


AFTER

You lead a great meeting, but if nothing happens afterwards you can’t call it effective.  All the elements above should set you up for success, now’s the time to keep it going.  If you ended your meeting by recapping the key decisions and action items, you have an easy template for moving forward. Send out a brief recap to the attendees so everyone is on the same page.  I love this template, and often copy the key decisions and action items in the body of the email, with the summary attached.

What are the best and worst meeting practices?  We’d love to hear from you!



Could your meetings use some improvement?  Here are some ways Luminaries Consulting can help:


  • Working with you to determine your communication and decision making needs and designing a meeting cadence that drives your business forward.

  • Planning approaches and agendas for particularly crucial meetings.

  • Facilitating strategic decision making meetings, allowing you to fully participate.

  • Providing your team with the tools and skills to improve each and every meeting and overall communication & decision making skills.


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