Once upon a time, I was part of a team that disliked meetings so much we went to pretty extreme measures to cut them short.
At this company, we were spread regionally and only met once every month or two. Those days together contained highly valuable time that could have been utilised really well. Instead, they were usually filled with meetings – meetings that followed the same old script and didn’t really achieve anything. We’d rather have been anywhere else.
I’m confident that there’s a lot of others out there that feel the same way about meetings today (just look at the amount of memes about meetings you see floating around the Internet!) Common complaints include: a lot of air time given to things that are only relevant to a couple of people, long winding conversations that go off on tangents without achieving anything solid, running over time then getting cut short once an important issue is starting to be discussed and the ubiquitous: ‘this could have been an email’.
It often seems like a construct that was created to improve efficiency, communication and cohesiveness actually does anything but.
As a result, people bemoan the fact they have to go to meetings. They drag their feet, arrive a few minutes late, and then make small talk or play on their phone to stall. In my particular team in the past, things got so bad we came up with a plan without the managers knowledge: nobody ask questions or challenge anything. In our minds, all that would do was keep us from getting to the pub earlier. Not really conducive for a high performing team! In any case, it worked, and we would make our way to the pub where we would then discuss how much of a waste of time that meeting was, and how frustrated we were.
Sound familiar? Or, perhaps you’re a manager, and you’ve noticed your team seems disengaged during meetings. Are they eerily quiet, making excuses for not being able to attend, or hiding behind laptop screens? If yes, take a minute to think about how your team meetings run. Are they productive or are they laborious like my previous experience?
If you feel they could be improved, here are a few of my tips for running an effective meeting:
- Purpose of the meeting – “We always have our weekly Monday meetings at 10am” – Why? Clearly state the reason for the meeting before you begin, as this will help shape what you discuss and give you a purpose.
- Start on time – It sounds basic, but so many start late. What message does this send about the importance of the meeting?
- Expectations – Set expectations on how your meeting will run. What does a productive meeting look like? What does an unproductive meeting look like? If you or others in the team start to stray into the unproductive, stop and realign, drawing on your pre-set expectations so you can get your meeting back on track.
- Prioritise – Instead of discussing things in a chronological or consecutive order, prioritise what you need to discuss and tick those important items off first, to ensure you don’t run out of time before you get to them.
- Action items – If you have action items, clearly identify and articulate who is doing what and by when. Confirm and re-confirm to ensure everyone is on the same page and there is no confusion over next steps.
- Finish on time – People are busy and like to finish on time.
- Review with the team – Frequently use your previously determined expectations as a framework and go over together what you did well in that meeting. Ask each other, if we could do 1-2 things differently to improve the meeting what would they be?
And finally – don’t have a meeting just for the sake of having a meeting. Whilst it’s great to have that time set aside in the calendar for a weekly catch up if required, there’s nothing worse than putting extra stress on a busy team by interrupting their work flow for a meeting that could have waited.
Meetings don’t have to be the bane of your team’s existence – with a few tweaks, they can become things to look forward to and a great tool for increasing team performance.
Gavin joined Leading Teams in November 2017, coming from an international career in the sport and corporate worlds. He is a Facilitator based in Melbourne.