Meetings are probably the best way to exchange information and ideas if a meeting is led correctly. Otherwise, they can be a big waste of time. I want to continue to explore the dichotomy of good meetings versus time wasters by looking at what it takes to hold a good meeting.
The first thing we should do is determine a meeting is actually necessary. If we simply want to communicate some information, is email or another communication vehicle a better approach? We should be constantly asking ourselves if the meeting is the best use of time and resources. Also, who, exactly, needs to be in the meeting? What will each person's contribution and takeaways be? Making a meeting as small as possible where appropriate means that less time is wasted and the people who need to contribute are present.
Next, what's the purpose of the meeting? As far as I can tell, there are five reasons for a meeting:
- For a team to report status to a person or a group
- For a team to make a recommendation to a person or group
- For a group of people to brainstorm or create alternatives
- For a group of people to debate and discuss design criteria
- For a person or team to educate a larger audience
If these are appropriate rationales for a meeting, we should inform the potential attendees about the outcome of the meeting. In other words, this is a status meeting or this is a meeting where the following recommendations will be made. This information will help the recommended attendees decide if they need to participate and to prepare accordingly.
Once the meeting parameters are established, send any information that is necessary for the meeting to be successful to the attendees in advance. This allows the meeting to be focused on debate and decision, not education. Information to support ideas and recommendations, plus a well-constructed agenda will help keep the meeting on track and limit tangents.
Appoint a meeting leader who will run the meeting according to the agenda, and a person to keep the minutes. The leader must be someone who can elicit opinions and debate when necessary, but who can shut down debate and discussion that is not on point. Meeting minutes are essential to remind everyone of the decisions that are made and follow up actions.
Finally, post the results of the meeting, minutes and followup actions. Ensure that everyone understands what was decided and who owns the followup actions. Make sure that what was decided gets done, otherwise people will view meetings as a waste of time.
A few tips on meeings:
- Hold as few meetings as possible to make each one important
- Include as few people as possible in each meeting to ensure everyone in the room understands the importance of the meeting
- Keep meetings as short and as to the point as possible
- Stick to an agenda and enforce meeting discipline
- Ensure all relevant points of view are on the table when discussion and debate is required. Meetings fail when only one point of view is considered
- Each meeting should result in tangible actions taken as a result of the discussion.
The result of this discipline will be shorter, more focused meetings that create more action and decisions as a result. I recommend augmenting this strategy with a "management by walking around" approach to ensure senior executives are getting plenty of ad-hoc face to face time.