First appeared in ‘Advant Edge’ (U.S.A.)
Meetings are usually awful. They are possibly the most disliked part of modern business. It has been estimated that there are anything between 11 and 25 million meetings held per day in America alone. It’s far too many. If you feel you need to call a meeting. Stop. Take a deep breath and work through the following factors.
Factor 1: Purpose and Intended Result
Is there a definite, tangible purpose for the meeting and a clear intended result? If you can’t explain to yourself what you want from the meeting don’t hold it and carry out one of the following activities;
a) If it’s an information sharing meeting send a report, a video of a presentation, a link?
b) If it’s a decision making meeting – just make the decision and let people know later.
If you have a Purpose and Intended Result work through the remaining factors;
Factor 2: People
Who should attend? Don’t invite people to a meeting because they always come to these meetings. If you know people are only attending because of their position in the Organisation investigate it. The number of managers who rush to a junior member of staff before a meeting to be briefed then have to brief them after the meeting must be phenomenal.
Get the right person to attend – irrespective of their position. Also people frequently don’t need to attend all the meeting. Prepare a list of who should stay / go for each item on the agenda. There is nothing worse than sitting through a three hour meeting waiting for your ten minute slot at the end that will inevitably be postponed until the next time because you’ve run out of time.
Factor 3: Timings
Be ruthless. Schedule an item and schedule a time. If an item’s scheduled for 20 minutes and time’s up and you’re nowhere near a conclusion stop it – reschedule it and move on to the next item. This will be incredibly hard to begin with but people will soon learn to get to the point quicker.
Always start on time. If people are late they get to miss it this time. It will encourage people to get used to your way of doing things.
Factor 4: Content
What type of meeting is it? Separate information sharing meetings and decision making meetings. Inevitably the person who has presented the information will have a bias towards getting it accepted even if there are stronger arguments. Separate these meetings – ideally over a day or so to allow people to assimilate all the information, or at least take a break between the presentations and the voting.
Factor 5: Be Creative.
There are some different ways of holding meetings and different approaches that may not be popular with a few people early on but they will get used to it;
Stand up meetings. No chairs, no coffee – a quick Monday morning progress meeting would be a good candidate. People are surprising eloquent and to the point once they’ve been standing for 10 minutes or so.
You can have creative meetings – really. They can be fun and extremely useful. If you have a problem, or a proposal to look at try something a little different. One technique is to use the principles outlined in Edward de Bono’s ‘Six Thinking Hats’; the chair will have the blue hat which manages the process. Other attendees are given a particular colour hat and must act out the process for that particular colour;
black hat is for negativity and why something won’t work,
white hat is concerned with information – facts and figures,
red hat deals with feelings and intuition,
yellow hat symbolises optimism and positive thinking
green hat focuses on creativity.
So, once these roles are assigned the topic is discussed. The black hat thinkers will look for reason this won’t work. The white hat thinkers will argue on the basis of facts and figures, and so on. The discussions are usually lively and productive. People don’t get trapped into defending positions but can explore ideas in a creative way.
Factor 6: Any Other Business
Never, ever have Any Other Business – ever. If people can’t inform you before the meeting – it can’t be that important, or they are doing it for tactical reasons.
There may be the odd occasion where you have to ignore these considerations but generally it is vital to work through a checklist. Meetings do develop a life of their own once they occur regularly and start taking over peoples’ lives.