Conducting Better Meetings
Right now I feel all "meeting-ed" out. These past two weeks, I have had many overly-long meetings regurgitating the same issues and not coming up with too many solutions. As someone who is receptive and has conducted many meetings in my career, I have also been the recipient of many complaints and frustrations form fellow-attendees.
Long ago, I developed a list of meeting rules which I have shared with my direct-reports at various organizations. The list varies slightly in both length and emphasis- depending on the organization. But as I run through the rules in my head, I am convinced the most basic 4 or 5 still hold true in any setting.
Have an agenda. Never hold a meeting just to get together or to meet some requirement of, say, a monthly staff meeting. If there is nothing to inform or discuss, cancel the meeting. Having an agenda means it is easier to stay on task. If the agenda is shared with the participants ahead of time, they can also be prepared to address the truly important issues.
Having a section for "open discussion" or "Comments" sounds very democratic and inclusive but that is often too open-ended and, depending on the number of participants, it invites off-topic or an overly-broad discussions which could double the anticipated meeting time. If you include this section, narrow it to maybe 2 minutes each or structure t in such a way that set areas are covered. For example, a department director meeting might include recap of recent issues regarding personnel, equipment and quality.
Limit the meeting to one hour. I know, I know. That seems too autocratic and rigid, but I challenge you to give me an idea of any topic that cannot be covered in one hour's time. Remember the meeting is not the time to hear every possible variation or opinion. Also minute details and strategies should be conducted "offline" with the decision or short list presented/discussed at another meeting.
Knowing ahead of time that the meeting is time-limited, tends to focus participants' attention and forces them to be succinct and precise, rather than using the time to ramble or think out loud.
Start on time. Always waiting 5 minutes for stragglers, re-sets the expectations, so that even normally-punctual individuals learn to come 5 minutes later. Not starting on time is disrespectful of people's time and also rewards the "bad behavior" of repeat offenders.
I had a boss who would lock the door 2 minutes after the scheduled start time. She would do this with great fanfare and the latecomers (department directors) would still be held accountable for decisions made in the meeting. That might be going a bit far, but it was effective. At first we joked about it, then learned to be early-or at least on time.
Summarize the meeting. It is very sound practice, logistically and management-wise, to provide a summary of the meeting. This creates a record of discussion and decisions. It is also a way to clarify action items with responsibilities. How often have you left a meeting wondering what was decided and who is responsible for a certain action?
If possible, summarize the salient points at the end of the meeting. But at a minimum, send out minutes or a summary email as soon as possible. Some organizations prefer to send out minutes just before the next scheduled meeting so information is fresh for the new meeting. I recommend sending out information ASAP.
It is each attendee's responsibility to access the minutes, refresh their memory and come to the next meeting prepared to participate.
These very simple strategies will work for any meeting in any organization. They have worked for me in organizations large and small over the years. I just wish some of the meetings I attended this month had followed these rules.