I suspect I’m unlikely to be alone with my confession that I have, on more than one occasion, found myself stuck inside a meeting which was serving almost no productive purpose. Meetings are both the saviour and the curse of the modern workplace. Saviours because, when run effectively, they can move decision making forward at a velocity which endless email trails with the world copied in could never hope to emulate. And curse because, as you will no doubt have experienced, the number of meetings which are actually run in such an efficient and productive manner can be few and far between.
I know a number of people who would gladly see meetings done away with entirely. I would disagree with this. Some of the most fulfilling moments in my career have come at the end of a meeting which has transformed how we look at our business, and has consequently made a seismic shift forward in productivity and output. So far as I’m concerned, it’s not about eradicating meetings. It’s about ensuring that the meetings that we do have deliver true ROI.
Running meetings doesn’t need to be difficult, but it does need to be planned if you’re to achieve the desired outputs. Here is a starter for ten from me as to how to run an effective meeting:
#1 Be clear – and ruthless – about your objectives
If your objectives aren’t entirely transparent to all meeting attendees, then your chances of achieving them are round about zero. Ensure that you are absolutely clear as to what you need to achieve in the allocated time – and then be ruthless about closing down conversations which derail and detract from those objectives. The planning process for meetings is the stage which is most often missed… and yet is the stage which adds most value when properly carried out.
#2 Chair effectively
Ensure you have a meeting chair who can keep you on track with #1 above. Not all individuals are natural chairpeople. It is a fallacy that it always needs to be the most senior person in the room who chairs the meeting. Select your meeting chair by dint of their ability to facilitate the achievement of the meeting’s objectives; not by their seniority in post.
#3 Be action orientated
We’ve all fallen into the trap of indulging in meetings which are little more than naval gazing and looking back at past successes. Constantly ask the question: ‘What’s next?’ Learning from previous achievements is great, but how do we translate that from mere theoretical learnings into targeted actions which really move our business forwards? Judging the success of a meeting on its action output is not a bad way to look at things at all.
#4 Encourage equal participation
Organisations are made up of both introverts and extroverts. In most meetings you will find a combination of these two personality types. Ensure you don’t let the extroverts take over. You will achieve most value from your time together if you ensure that everyone is given the chance to speak up and share their point of view.
#5 Keep it snappy
The ideal length for a meeting is a little like asking what the ideal length is for a piece of string. It will depend on a number of factors, including your objectives, number of participants and how opposing various views are coming into the meeting. However, when it comes to meeting length, bear in mind that less is almost always more.
Vast amounts of time are lost in businesses every single day through meetings starting late, participants arriving after discussions have commenced, and conversations veering off topic. Be ruthless with your scheduling – and focus your mind by calculating the collective cost to the business of everyone in that room during the time you spend in your meeting. When it comes to ROI, it is a critical reminder of the importance of meeting the objectives you set for your time together. In admittedly a rather sweeping statement, I would suggest that most meetings could arguably be 25% shorter if run truly effectively. Less is, in a meeting sense at least, almost always more.
Meetings have an important part to play in every organisation. However, as senior leaders within our businesses, we have a responsibility to ensure they are adding the value we need them to… and being ruthless about the action we take where they’re not.