Meetings are probably one of the most expensive overhead costs within your organization, and most of them are evidently ineffective.
The ability to run a meeting effectively is a crucial skill in the modern world we live in. With everything moving faster than ever before, your team wants to be assured that the time spent sitting in a meeting is valuable and the outcome of the meeting will have a direct benefit and relevance to their daily work expectations.
To make this happen, preparing for the meeting is the most crucial step to pay attention to.
Draft The Agenda
The first rule for every meeting is that it must have an agenda that needs to be communicated to the team members in advance. From my experience, a good timeline is sending a draft of the agenda at least three days before the meeting. After you send the draft, ask the team members to look at the items on the agenda and add and suggest any additional items to be discussed at the meeting. This will give the leader time to review all the items and prioritize the list before the meeting.
Allocate Time For Each Item On The Agenda
The second rule for every meeting is that it must have a specific length of time allocated and communicated to all expected to attend. I have attended meetings in the past where the leader and the team members show up and there seems to be a lot of confusion because the agenda was not communicated, and no specific time has been set. This makes the leader look disorganized and out of control.
When the length of the meeting is communicated, it helps everyone involved in planning their work around it. It has some psychological effects as well. When your mind is set to sit in a meeting for an hour and somehow the meeting gets extended even by five minutes, it is likely to throw you off. When this happens, people usually check out mentally and they just sit there waiting for the meeting to end. This is not a good use of time for the company and everyone involved.
Have a smooth and organized flow
Having a precise structure for the meeting will ensure that most if not all the items on the agenda are covered.
From my experience in leading hundreds of team meetings in both professional and social settings, here are my suggestions on the structure to follow:
Step 1: Arrival
Be the first person to arrive at the meeting. Traditionally, leaders stay in their office and just show up just a few minutes before the meeting starts to run the meeting.
After experimenting at numerous meetings, I have found that the little and almost effortless act of showing up early, greeting the team members as they come in, and having a light conversation makes a big difference. We are social beings and we respond better to people we have a connection with. This small act also puts the team members at ease, and they are likely to open up, especially if you are discussing a challenging situation.
Step 2: Give a Pre-call
I learned about the pre-call concept from one of the trainers at a company I worked for. A pre-call is simply giving the meeting attendees the breakdown of the meeting including the agenda, the length of the meeting, the structure, and the expected outcomes. During the pre-call these are some of the things you can cover:
– Length of the meeting
– Breaks if it is a long meeting
– Food, snacks, and drinks if they are being provided and also amenities like bathrooms and smoking joints if the meeting is being held in an external location.
– Guidelines on asking and answering questions. I usually tell the attendees that we will go through the items on the agenda and I would like them to write down all the questions they have on a piece of paper so we can answer all of them during the Q&A session.
These details might seem unimportant, but they make a big difference to ensure the meeting runs smoothly.
Step 3: Introduction
Start by telling the attendees what the meeting is all about. Be upbeat and optimistic even if you have called the meeting to handle a problem. It sets the pace for the meeting.
Step 4: Recognitions
Every member of the team has a key role to play in the success of the team. I usually start by recognizing the whole team. I say something like: Thank you all for being here today. We have a few things on our agenda, and I know by the time we are done, we will accomplish a lot. Then I will recognize individuals who have played a key role in a special project, especially those who went out of their way to help. It could be someone who came to work on their day off or someone who stayed past their scheduled time to help another team member. I recognize these people to let them know that their contribution is being noticed and appreciated. The practice of recognizing in public and counseling in private is still relevant even in today’s world.
Step 5: Agenda Items
Go through the agenda items in order of priority based on what is important and valuable at that moment in time. As mentioned earlier, each item on the agenda needs to have time allocated to it so you don’t get into the trap of unnecessarily spending too much time on one agenda or even casually brushing through it because it doesn’t seem to be important. Any issue that cannot be solved from the meeting and any new issue that comes up at the meeting needs to be scheduled either to be addressed at some other time or outside the meeting.
Step 6: Questions and answers session
Every meeting should have a Q&A session. Most of the issues get escalated when questions from the members are not answered exhaustively or get ignored because either the time is out, or the leader does not think it’s important to answer the questions.
One simple rule I have learned for questions and answers is the 45-second rule. I communicate to all the members that we are going to start our Q&A session and to ensure efficiency, we will give each person 45 seconds to ask or answer a question that has been asked. This ensures that people are precise and straight to the point. I also communicate that if an issue has been raised, a follow-up question can be asked but not repeating the same question and lingering on it unnecessarily.
There is a temptation to focus more on touchy subjects, so the leader needs to be in control of the session.
Step 7: Appreciation
Almost always, after every meeting, people are usually either excited and looking forward to what is next in the days or weeks ahead or they are discouraged because you had to discuss issues affecting the team.
Either way, I always applaud and thank the team members for their participation.
Despite the outcome of the meeting, the team members need to feel that they are still valued.
I usually say something like: “Thank you again for attending the meeting today and for your participation. You play an important role in our team and I want to continue adding value to you. I believe in you and I’m excited about the future and what we are accomplishing together.”
When I was a manager with a team of 32 employees reporting directly to me, there was a time when the turnover was at 50%. That is extremely high and there was no way I could sustain performance at a high level because it meant that I had to be constantly hiring and training new employees. When I incorporated this small step of taking a few minutes to appreciate my team, the turnover reduced to 15% within a year and performance went up more than 30%. Try this simple step and see what it will do for you.
Step 8: Closing
Closing the meeting in upbeat mode is an important step. Regardless of the outcome of any meeting, the leader should always build anticipation for the next meeting. People love progress and feeling that they are contributing towards the vision and of the team will make them want to be a part of the development.
If for some reason members feel that the meeting wasn’t valuable to them, they may decide not to show up to the next meeting; if they do or if they have to, they might just sit there and daydream about other things. That is not a good use of their time or yours.
Major complaints From Meeting Attendees
Over a period of six months, I verbally surveyed my seminar attendees in over 60 different seminars in different cities in the US. I asked one simple question: what drives you crazy about the company and team meetings?
Here is the list I got, and it was very consistent regardless of the age, region, and the number of years the employees had worked for the company:
· Meetings take too long unnecessarily
· Starting the meeting late; either there is no plan or just waiting for others to show up
· Meetings go past the scheduled time
· Boring speakers and presenters
· Disorganized facilitators
· Non-participation from the attendees
· Dominance by some attendees
· No clear direction /objective of the meeting
When you look at this list, how many of these things are you guilty of?
My Challenge to You
Take a few minutes and make a list of at least five things that you are going to put into practice while running your team meetings