Designing Meetings That Actually Work
“What do you think about meetings?”
“I hate meetings!”
“Really?! I love them. I love being interrupted from my workflow so I can go listen to a ‘visionary’ ramble about possibilities.”
Okay, maybe this isn’t exactly how people talk about meetings, but I have a strong suspicion that many are thinking this. I’m going to pull my “be brutally honest card” and say that many, if not most, don’t like the meetings we’re creating for our companies and organizations. Very few outside of the meeting organizer are rushing to participate (unless of course, you’re trying to fill in “work” time). Aren’t you tried of the endless treadmill of organizational meetings? It’s no wonder why several books of late have called for a death of meetings.
Most meetings are fairly predictable. Does the following sound familiar?
- Greeting by Organizer
- Initial Thoughts on Vision or Sharing of Inspiration (If any prep goes into this, it will probably be the most engaging time of the meeting.)
- Review of Agenda Handouts (You’ve lost us. Most have already skimmed the agenda by this point and have decided what the take away will be.)
- Project Updates (Everyone takes a turn to update to give the impression that things are truly collaborative. Unfortunately, many of these updates are not prepared nor designed to engage the rest of the team.)
- Rabbit Trail Discussions (aka The “But, what about this?” Distraction)
- New Idea Injections & Reproduction (The more ideas, the merrier, right? Nope.)
- Hesitancy by Participants to Volunteer for More Work (Who wants to participate when the leader thinks that the one suggesting the idea ought to be the one implementing (unless it’s their idea, of course).
- Back to Agenda with Little Time Left (Uh..oh)
- Organizer’s Delay Option Play (This is the part of the meeting where the organizer says something like, “Let’s think about it and come back to the concept next time.” You know what this means, right? Exactly.)
- Announcements (People are usually thinking about lunch or dinner at this point.)
- Dismissal (We’re usually walking away thinking, “Where has my day gone?”)
Okay, maybe I’m being a little sarcastic. 🙂
Nevertheless, you get the point. Either we change the way we design meetings or we really shouldn’t have them. Many meetings could actually be skimmed down to a matter of minutes with similar results.
Here are some of my initial ideas to designing a meeting that actually works:
- Prepare – If the meeting is worth calling, I think it’s fair to say that the organizer and the participants should prep. What will people bring to the table? What will the experience people will walk away with? What will make the meeting memorable? This really depends on the next thought…
- Meeting Objectives – What are you trying to accomplish through the meeting? How will know if your meeting has been successful? Is your measurement based on team objectives or your personal hopes?
- For example, is the success of the meeting dependent upon whether you feel like you’ve been heard or understood? Some leaders mistaken their success in presentation with the purpose of a gathering.
- Another example: If you’re trying to build team morale, this should dictate what kind of meeting you have. You might want to consider activities outside of a typical meeting to accomplish an objective like this.
- Clear Communication – It’s important that those attending the meeting understand why they are there. Who needs to be there? Do they know what value they are bringing to a conversation prior to the meet up? Do you really want the meeting to be collaborative or is it really a presentation of your thoughts followed by a request for feedback? Being upfront and honest can better frame a meeting.
- Minimize Time – Work towards creating realistic time frames for meetings. Meetings don’t have to be long or buffered by filler minutes. Accomplish the objective and end the meeting.
- When’s the Meeting? – Collectively determine when the best times for meetings might be. Is the morning the best time? Simple question that can lead to a world of difference.
- Think Action – A meeting that does not have tangible outcomes or next steps is not a meeting worth having. During a meeting, be sure to determine who does what based on BOTH the pre-work and meeting ideation. Everyone should be taking notes and actively engaging content that yields towards action if they are at the meeting. Active engagement has nothing to do with status in a company. If you’re at the meeting, it should be meaningful enough to stay engaged.
Although this is not an exhaustive list, I hope it can jump start some new ideas and more importantly, improved outcomes. I still believe that meetings can be productive if we choose to put in the time to creating a remarkable experience. After all, aren’t we the ones claiming that it’s “important”? Just saying.