Make meetings work
Every meeting can have a variety of problems, including preparation time, the length of the meeting, and how people interact at the meeting. In his new book, Dealing With Meetings You Can’t Stand: Meet Less And Do More, Rick Brinkman explains how to make meetings effective—be they in person or virtual. He lists various ways to recognize problems and how to follow up. We take a look at some key takeaways from the book.
■ One of the key things you must remember before you start any meeting is to figure out the reason for having the meeting in the first place. You can do this simply by asking the following questions:
•What is the purpose of this meeting?
•Is a meeting the right format to accomplish the purpose?
•Can the purpose be accomplished in a better way?
The only good reason to hold a meeting is to interact and not just to share information, because technology has made it possible to share information without actually being face to face.
■ Counting the cost of each meeting is important. This doesn’t just mean the amount the organization is losing by paying the employees per minute, etc., but also the time each of them is taking out of their schedule, or the time/benefit ratio.
■ Deciding on the right format for any meeting is important. Is this a meeting which can be done online? Or is the topic complex enough to actually demand a face-to-face meeting? It could also be a mix of the two, when some people in a global team sit in a face-to-face meeting, while their colleagues from overseas may have to join in through a virtual call.
■ Make sure that whoever is attending the meeting is actually required to be there. Calling extra people would mean distractions and side-conversations. If all the necessary people are not available, reschedule the meeting.
■ Having an agenda for the meeting is absolutely necessary. This should ideally be circulated among the attendees well in advance. Along with the agenda, you should attach any other documents or information the participants need to read before the meeting. Make sure the documents are clearly labelled and named according to the agenda item.
■ Think in terms of clustering the way people’s attention is focused. You can do this by clustering a group of topics that relate to one another, you can cluster according to process (for example, grouping a number of agenda items that require discussions), etc.
■ Another important factor to consider when you create the order of agenda items is their relative priorities. You may want to put the most important items first. That way, if an item really requires more time than was originally planned for in the agenda, you can create more time for it by postponing to another meeting the discussion of the less important items at the end of the agenda.
■ A meeting can never end on time unless all participants have respect for the schedule given. Being committed to starting a meeting on time means you are likely to get done on time and not get delayed for the next meeting, or for your regular work.
■ Recognize the role each person plays in any meeting. For ease of understating, Brinkman compared a meeting to a flight taking off. For the smooth functioning of a flight, three people are required. A “pilot” is the primary timekeeper. He/she needs to pay attention to the time allotted to each agenda item, making sure it starts and ends on time. The next important person, who the author calls the “air traffic controller”, notes the topic at each moment and the process being used (discussion, brainstorming, or something else). He/she is also responsible for the speaking order, giving participants clearance to speak, so that assertive people don’t talk over one another and passive people don’t withdraw. Then there is the “flight recorder”, whose prime responsibility is to capture people’s ideas and contributions accurately. He/she captures with accuracy the important points people make in as few words as possible. It will also be the flight recorder’s responsibility to make sure everyone receives the follow-up information they need and notes from the meeting.
■ Before starting a discussion, the first thing that should be done is to state the group’s intent, which is what it is trying to accomplish with the discussion, and then list the relevant criteria that need to be satisfied. The list of criteria should be prioritized. Some criteria may be negotiable whereas others are not