Almost everyone has experienced the frustration of a meeting that could have been explained via a simple email. Meetings are a powerful tool that’s widely misunderstood but can be so useful for generating ideas and forging a team spirit.
Given that nobody enjoys their time being wasted, gaining a reputation for running efficient and successful meetings is good for you and your career.
Running a successful meeting is more than sending out a notice that your team is to meet at a particular time and place. Successful meetings need structure and order, as without these elements, they can drag on and not accomplish a thing.
The simplest of steps can make all the difference between a good meeting or not.
Too often, people call a meeting to discuss something without really considering what a good outcome would be. A successful meeting serves a useful purpose. This means that in it, you achieve a desired outcome.
- Do you want a decision?
- Do you want to generate ideas?
- Are you alerting people to a change in management or a shift in strategy?
- Are you seeking input from others on a problem facing the company?
Any of these is an example of a meeting objective. To help you determine what your meeting objective is, complete this sentence:
“At the close of this meeting, I want the group to…”
With the objective clearly defined, you can then plan the contents of the meeting and determine who needs to be present.
When you’re calling a meeting, take time to consider who really needs to be there. The people in the meeting room make or break your effectiveness and the success of the meeting in general.
- If you’re announcing a change, invite the people who are affected by new adjustments.
- If you’re trying to solve a problem, invite those who will be good sources of information for a solution.
When people feel that what is being discussed isn’t relevant to them, or that they lack the skills or expertise to be of assistance, they’ll view their attendance at the meeting as a waste of time.
Psychological experiments have shown that the way a meeting starts sets the tone for the whole meeting. If you want energy and engagement from your team, you need to embody those qualities while they walk through those meeting doors.
By starting the meeting with complaints, problems and mutual blame – that’s what you’ll get. But, if you start out with something positive, the rest of the meeting is more likely to be more fun.
The best way to start a meeting positively is to ask each participant to briefly share something positive. Try some of the following ideas:
- Name one thing you have accomplished since the last meeting that you’ve been proud of
- Mention one thing you are looking forward to in the coming week/month
- Mention something interesting you have learned since the last meeting
This sets a much better tone for the rest of the meeting – and it’s also a lot more fun than opening with an endless litany of complaints and problems.
Consider the provision of coffee and nibbles, as these can contribute a positive outcome – especially if your meeting is before lunchtime!
Vague intentions to have a discussion on a topic aren’t nearly as efficient as creating an agenda that lays out everything you plan to cover, along with a timeline that allots a certain number of minutes to each item.
With an idea of what needs to be covered and for how long, you can then look at the information that should be prepared beforehand. Flip boards can be particularly useful for this scenario as they are well suited to brainstorming and collaborative meetings.
- If it is a meeting to solve a problem, ask the participants to come prepared with a viable solution
- If you are discussing an ongoing project, have each participant summarise their progress to date and circulate the reports amongst members.
Time is a precious resource, and no one wants theirs wasted.
People appreciate when you recognise that their time is valuable, which is why starting and ending the meeting on time will quickly enhance your reputation as an organised person. If you are running a large or complex meeting, consider asking a colleague to serve as time keeper.
Sticking to your schedule helps with keeping to time but remember to also be proactive and assertive if discussion goes astray.
Sometimes ideas that are raised during the course of the discussion are interesting and worthwhile following up but are not necessarily of direct use to the goals of the current meeting. A ‘Parking Lot’ serves to keep the meeting focused on the agenda, whilst acknowledging important points raised by attendees.
By adding a topic to the Parking Lot, the new (unrelated) subject will not be forgotten, as it is documented for discussion in the future. In saying that, if the meeting participants get through the rest of the agenda and make all the required decisions with time left over, there is no reason why the Parking Lot items for the meeting cannot be reviewed.
Ensure there is a system for recording these ideas, such as a visible board or the provision of paper and pens for attendees to write their thoughts and questions without interrupting the flow of the meeting.
The art and science of follow up is a vital professional habit and it also matters in the context of successful meetings. It is quite common for people to come away from the same meeting with very different interpretations of what went on. To reduce this risk, email a summary to all attendees within one working day, highlighting what was accomplished.
Follow up in a timely manner, as it helps to manage outcomes and ensures everyone is on the same page.
It’s important to document the following:
- The responsibilities given
- The tasks delegated
- Assigned deadlines
Successful meetings can be a source of creativity and motivation – a time when team collaboration and leadership combine and create the space for achieving organisational goals. With a solid objective in mind, a tight agenda and a commitment to involving the meeting participants, you are well on your way to chairing a successful meeting.