Ok, it’s important that I begin by saying that I believe meetings (in general) to be important in business. And, just to be clear, I’m not looking at the usual one to one meetings here; I’m dealing with the larger (team) meetings that are now part of everyday organizational life – usually punctuated by Powerpoint presentations and minute-taking. Meetings are there to provide an opportunity for teams to share knowledge, to strengthen interdependencies and, overall, to have better informed decision-making. In practice however, many meetings are unproductive, seen as time-wasters and generate more conflict than synergies. I’m not going to look at how to make meetings more effective – there is sufficient, although generally ignored, advice on this topic. What I really wanted to look at briefly is the decision-making process we use when deciding to have a meeting and press the “Invite” button.
It’s important to have the right meetings, with the right people, dealing with the right issues. Otherwise you might be responsible for wasting a lot of valuable resources in the form of people’s time. Even those regular meetings that are are in your calendar, the monthly/weekly/daily(!) update meetings should be sanity checked at regular intervals to ensure that they are still fulfilling a need. Regular scheduled meetings can often remain long after their “best before” date. They can remain in place when all of the original meeting members have been replaced over time, the original focus is lost and the meeting seems to be there for reasons that no-one can really articulate (Skinner might well give a wry smile). Meetings with titles such as “Strategic Review” can become entirely operational with the agenda being no more than an aspirational list of to-do items.
It’s important therefore to take a long hard look at the meetings you arrange and confirm that they are not just there by force of habit or a remnant of how some previous management team ran the business.
The next time you are about to set up a meeting, stop first and ask yourself a few questions.
- Do you need a meeting to achieve your aims? Ask yourself this question twice!
- Are you clear on the purpose of the meeting? What are the desired outcomes? Use the following as a check by completing the phrase – “If the meeting is successful then……..”
- Are the agenda items aligned with the purpose of the meeting? What is superfluous? What is missing?
- Are you clear about what your role will be at the meeting?
- Are you clear about who needs to attend? Treat each invite as a valuable resource that you are taking away from other value-adding activities.
- Are you clear about what each invitee will bring to the meeting and/or take away from the meeting?
- Have you allocated the right amount of time for the meeting? (Or have you just clicked “one hour” because its the default?)
Sanity checking your meeting should be an ongoing activity. The hidden cost of meetings can be enormous if they are unproductive so, before you even start, make sure you know what you’re meeting will deliver.
As for the efficient running of meetings – that’s another day’s work!