More on meetings

Are your meetings a bit like this?

Are your meetings a bit like this?

I did a blog on meetings last year, called I hate (some) meetings and one of the comments asked for some advice on conducting meetings. I suppose meetings are so common place that few people give any thought to making them run effectively. As a consequence, we find far too many meetings are an inedible waste of time. So, here we is some advice to take us back to the basics.

Firstly, do not hold a meeting at all if there is a better way of achieving the objective. The time taken during the meeting should typically represent only 10% to 20% of the total time needed to prepare for and follow up the meeting; use your time appropriately.

Before the meeting, the person calling the meeting should:

  • fix the objective, venue, date, time and attendance well in advance; keep numbers to a minimum
  • ensure all required parties are invited and have authority/knowledge to take decisions and/or make a valid contribution
  • set accountability and time limits for each agenda item, taking into account the participants’ different interest levels for each item
  • send out agenda and written submissions in time to allow participants to prepare.
    Those invited should accept the invitation, decline or provide a substitute attendee, as appropriate.

At the meeting:
The Chair should:

  • confirm who the note taker is
  • confirm the objective of the meeting
  • start and finish the meeting on time: censure late arrivals.
  • stick to the agenda and timetable.
  • ensure there is an agreed approach for undertaking each agenda item.
  • keep the meeting focused.
  • ensure full, participative discussion takes place.
  • guillotine “knotty” issues for resolution outside the meeting.
  • summarise each agenda item at the end and ensure agreements and actions are recorded .
  • agree and fix date for next meeting, if needed.
  • seek meeting participants’ feedback on the effectiveness of the meeting.

The Note taker should:

  •   act as the Chair’s right hand person.
  •   ensure all decisions and agreements are noted.
  •   take brief, relevant, action oriented notes.

Meeting participants should:

  • keep to the point and be brief.
  • listen to others and should not hold private meetings.
  • be constructive, adopting a “can do” approach
  • agree realistic plans/actions.
  • make a note of their own actions (including recipient and date).

After the meeting:
The Chair should:

  • review the effectiveness of the meeting and note improvement points for the next meeting.

The Note taker should:

  • publish the notes or minutes to the participants and those who need them within 1 day. What is the point of “old minutes”, they are no good to anyone. It takes the same time to do them straight away as to do them a month later – it’s just a matter of you organizing yourself.

Participants should:

  • assess their own effectiveness at the meeting and note areas for improvement; make suggestions to the Chair if appropriate.
  • read the minutes and address all actions and note those actions where they are the “recipient”.

HINTS
If you use a collaboration tool such as SharePoint or Livelink, use a task list to record the meeting’s actions. In this way, no actions are lost and those accountable for each action can readily find them.

Place “Review of Previous Minutes” towards the end of the meeting agenda, rather than at the beginning. This will encourage the meeting to go forward rather than starting by dwelling on what happened last time. If important, many of these items will be dealt with in the main agenda items.

If the notes are not for a formal meeting then consider the use of hand-written notes or as a photocopied page in your work book:

  •  record actions, in hand-writing at the meeting,
  • photocopy the sheet(s) just before the end of the meeting,
  • distribute to participants before they leave.
  • scan and file the handwritten note if you need a record.

. . . and make sure you all behave well at the meeting:

  • Start on time
  • Switch off or silence mobile devices
  • Keep to the agenda – Stick to the point
  • No private meetings
  • No interruptions or walk-outs
  • Be constructive
  • Speak out during the meeting – not afterwards
  • Be polite
  • LISTEN!
  • Agree conclusions and actions
  • FINISH ON TIME

I hate (some) meetings

I wonder how many people agree with the title of this article? In fact, I have not been fully honest; I hate badly run meetings. You’ve probably been there:

You turn up on time and hang around while others drift in. Someone spends the next 10 minutes looking for a chairman’s code so the “dial-in” attendees can participate. Then someone says, “Let’s start”. . . . . and everyone ignores him or her. Finally someone says, “Shall I chair this?”. “Oooo yes please”, comes the reply.
“Okay, what’s this about?”


SILENCE.


“Err, ok, lets look at the minutes of last month’s meeting. We got these yesterday, didn’t we?”
They all then go through some cryptic meeting notes and argue about what was really said. In fact for this one hour meeting, half of it is spent going over the last meeting. . . . with no progress at all and all the “agreements” made at the last meeting were disputed as the wording in the minutes was rather ambiguous.
“Sorry, I need to go”, says one person, “I have to walk the dog, she’ll chew the table legs if I don’t go.”
In a vain attempt to gain control the Chair says, “Let’s look at the actions from the preceeding meetings”. He then goes through them and they argue as to what the action really was and who was meant to do it. One action is done however, but no one can remember why it was needed or who the output was meant to go to.
“Ah,” says the Chair, “we are out of time, but could everyone stay on for another half hour? We do have some really important things to discuss.” He looks daggers at one person who walks out . . . .
He then lists the topics on a flip chart. The remaining attendees then discuss what order to take the “important items” in.
“Wasn’t there an agenda?”, says a new joiner (Aren’t they naive when they are young!).
“Oh no, we don’t go in for that bureaucracy. It’s such a waste of time. We always have the same agenda”.
They actually get through one item and then the meeting fizzles to a close.
“Well, that was good – we had that item sorted.”
“Did we?”
“Yes”
“Who got the action?”
“I don’t know; it’s not me any way”.
“Who was taking notes?”
“I don’t know. See you next time.”
“Who was on the conference phone?”
“I don’t know, we never asked . . . . “

I’m not sure if the story above reflects your reality or just pieces of reality; only you can tell, from your experience. In the meantime, if you end up in the “meeting from hell“, perhaps you can do something about it. and not be a victim. If you want , I could publish some “best practice” notes on meetings. Let me know.