Productive and effective aren’t the adjectives we associate with meetings. Often termed as productivity killer, I don’t think I have ever seen anyone excited about spending their day in meetings.
Love them or hate them, there is no escape from meetings. We cannot change that fact!
However, what we can change is the way we run meetings and then aim for productive outcomes.
How do we do that?
By starting with a checklist for effective meetings.
Click here to download the free template.
Let’s start by looking at the reasons for having a meeting. There could be multiple reasons why a meeting needs to be conducted:
- Kick-start a new project
- Review the status of an existing project
- Root-cause analysis of a particular problem or issue
- Team meetings for regular updates
- Appraisal meetings
- Management updates meetings
- Farewell meetings
While the objective of each of these meetings is different, there are commonalities such as:
- There is an objective that needs to be achieved with the gathering of people here.
- Number of participants is more than one, therefore date and time should be convenient for most if not all
- There is a clearly defined role for each participant. For e.g. if you are an audience in town-hall, understand the changes happening in your organization and how does it affect your role. If you have doubts, ask questions.
- The duration of the meeting is time bound
Given these commonalities there are we can define the checklist for productive meetings into three phases:
As the name indicates Pre-Meeting indicates all the tasks and activities to be completed before the meeting.
New or Recurring
The only difference between a new and recurring meeting is the follow-up from a previous meeting. In a recurring meeting, time is spent on summarizing the last meeting.
It is important to think about this aspect of the meeting at the beginning because it may affect the agenda, meeting duration, participants, etc.
For e.g. i,f the meeting has to recur every week for one quarter, the meeting duration could be 15 mins instead of 30 mins. Whereas, if the meeting recurring monthly, it may be scheduled for 60 mins.
A one time meeting may last for the whole day.
If the progress is tracked in phases, a recurring meeting may make more sense than one time engagement.
Define in one sentence the one thing you are trying to accomplish with this meeting.
Get an approval for a new project? Delegate responsibility to kick-start a project or share updates?
This will help you be on track during the meeting and ensure that the time spent is utilized productively.
Decision or Discussion
Once you have an idea about the objective, you will be clear about the course of the meeting.
If it is a ‘decision’ meeting, where the participants should make decisions about certain important things, but instead it is turning into a discussion, the meeting organizer should bring the team back to decision.
In a way, this factor works like a lighthouse to ensure that meeting agenda stays on its course and the time is used productively.
The most important consideration while setting the agenda is to allocate time to items as per their importance.
Each meeting attendee will ask for maximum time to present their case or share their updates and no matter how much time you allot it will be less for them.
As a meeting organizer you, will have to estimate and allot time for each topic. Not only that, you will also have to insist that participants adhere to the timeline and ensure they cover the most important facet in that duration.
The number of participants, their location and the expectation from each of them will help in finalizing other details of the meeting.
Most often the participants define the agenda and time they would need depending upon the objective of the meeting.
Even if that is pre-fixed the slot of the meeting can be fixed only if all are available on the set day and time.
Day, Time, Duration
The day, time and duration of the meeting is fixed after participants confirm their availability for the meeting.
For large group meetings, coordinating the schedule is one of the most time-consuming task for a meeting organizer.
One quicker way is to share a common calendar and ask participants to mark their preferred slot among the 3-5 choices given. Based on the majority, a slot can be fixed.
For a review meeting, participants are required to prepare their updates in advance.
For a project brief meeting, the freelancer should prepare the questions.
If there is an expectation to complete some activity or prepare before the meeting, those should be clearly highlighted in the meeting invite.
Venue and Conferencing details
If the meeting is in-person, details about the location should be shared in advance. Most convenient location can be fixed while voting for preferred date and time.
If it is a virtual meeting or some attendees are in the remote location, don’t forget to share the conference details audio or video.
If the participants need to refer to a document or presentation to set the context or better understand the objective that meeting material should be shared with the invite.
If the material needs to be printed, then appropriate time should be factored for printing and availability.
Once the main items of the meeting like agenda, time and day, duration are fixed, the other aspects like coordination with other teams, refreshments etc can be organized.
On meeting day, necessary checks should be to ensure that there are no technical difficulties, venue is set-up, any changes in Agenda have been incorporated or communicated, all participants are present.
Basically, ensure all peripheral items are in place for smooth execution.
During the Meeting
The most important task during the meeting is to stay on the agenda and ensure the objective is met.
A large group usually has a tendency to sway in a different direction especially in a discussion meeting and that leads to dissatisfaction that meeting wasn’t productive.
Therefore, the meeting organizer has to be extra cautious that objective is achieved.
Also, once the meeting concludes, the group has agreed on the follow-up actions and methods. If the meeting is recurring, or another meeting is required, the group has chosen a date.
The most important task to focus on post-meeting is to ensure that meeting notes and to-dos are shared with all participants and other concerned stakeholders.
That is one sure shot way to ascertain if the meeting has been productive or it was another wasted effort.
It is advisable to track progress periodically, especially if there is no follow-up meeting planned. And, at the end always share updates with the stakeholders, until the objective is achieved.
For most of us, Meetings may not be the most productive time at work but they cannot be avoided. Therefore, the best way to make them productive is by preparing in advance and sticking to the schedule during the meeting.
Click here to download the spreadsheet version of the template.
Have tips to share on Meeting best practices? Share them in comments.