Meetings are a core part of what many of us do. The problem is that it is estimated that half of the meeting time in the United States is wasted time. Thus the love hate relationship with meetings. If they go well they can be the breeding ground of new and innovative ideas and strategies. If they go badly...well, you know the drill.
If you are not willing to engage people in a meaningful meeting you should not call one. But what constitutes a meaningful meeting?
One: You know when you go into the meeting what the outcomes need to be and you can articulate those outcomes at the beginning of the meeting - or better yet before the meeting. For each agenda item there is an articulated outcome. Are you desirous of a decision, are you simply sharing information, are you looking for robust dialogue around a strategy? Whatever it is, everyone ought to know what you are looking for.
Two: You have an agenda with time parameters. That goes without saying except all to often it does not happen. The agenda is your road-map that keeps you from interminable meetings that go nowhere. It also keeps you on tract with the time parameters. Good meeting facilitators don't allow the meeting to stray far from the agenda. That is what a parking lot is for: listing issues that arise but that need to be addressed another day.
Three: Everyone is present! I am not talking physically but mentally. Cell phones are put away, computers are not for reading email but for meeting purposes only. Way too much time is wasted by participants who are not truly present or participating.
Four: Robust dialogue is encouraged: Any issue can be put on the table with the exception of a hidden agenda or a personal attack. If you call a meeting you must be willing to hear what people actually think rather than what you want them to think. There is nothing more disheartening than a meeting where there is not true freedom to speak one's mind. If there are elephants in the room - issues that cannot be discussed it is not a true meeting. So, no elephants!
Five: Never substitute dialogue and discussion for a decision that needs to be made. Make the decision or accomplish the outcome you have identified and move on. Meetings are designed to drive your missional agenda, not simply be a place to air your opinions.
Six: Record all decisions made or action items discussed and at the beginning of your next meeting review those decisions and action items. Build a culture where participants are responsible for doing what they promised to do.
Seven: Send out prior to the meeting any context, reading or assignments so they don't have to be covered in the meeting itself. Don't do in the meeting what can be done prior to the meeting.
Eight: Start on time and end on time. Coming on time is a courtesy for everyone. Ending on time says that you value the time of the participants.
Nine: If you are the leader of the meeting you are responsible for crafting the meeting so that the time is well spent. If you have ten participants in a two hour meeting you are spending 20 hours of time and it needs to be well spent. Your preparation for the meeting will make the difference as to the quality of the meeting. Preparing on the fly is not going to yield a good meeting. It should be anathema to bore those in the meeting or to wasting their time.
Ten: Evaluate the meeting when it is over. Take five minutes to give a red, green or yellow to the following:
- We achieved our outcomes
- We had creative conflict
- We listened well
- The facilitator keep the meeting on track
- Everyone came prepared
- Assignments from the last meeting were finished
- We made decisions
- We had action items
- The meeting leader was prepared and facilitated well
Don't settle for boring and ineffective meetings.