In corporate America, few things waste as much potential productive time as meeting. As the poet Lord Bryon wrote ‘Nothing is so difficult as a beginning’ and this applies to meetings as well. A great meeting begins before it begins.
How often have you attended a meeting that did not seem to have a purpose, lasted forever, but arrived nowhere? How often have you gone to a meeting without an agenda and people were confused of the main reason for the meeting? Without providing any statistics on the number of hours lost to meetings each day, worldwide, I think everyone can agree that poorly planned meetings do waste time. In fact, these kinds of bad meeting are time dividers as, instead of just eating one individual’s hour, they gobble up time for an entire group.
Every meeting should have an agenda! If you cannot craft an agenda, due to a lack of purpose or too few points to discuss, it probably does not warrant a full-blown meeting, but may require a short face-to-face discussion, phone call, or email. Below are the guidelines for a good meetings.
The 24 Hour Rule
Create meeting agendas early. If you send your meeting agenda a full day before the meeting, it will allow all the members to read through it and give some of the topics some extra thought. This should be a common courtesy between knowledge workers. Too often, even when someone takes the time to craft a great agenda, it is not distributed until the very beginning of the meeting, and then people are distracted by this new data. Attention to meeting for the first few minutes is lost as people end up reading through the agenda to make sure it does not contain any ‘gotchas’ that will impact them. By following the 24 Hour Rule, you will notice all the meeting you lead will greatly improve.
Include the Purpose Statement
Why are we here? Many corporate meetings skip this step; however, by including a purpose statement, it insures that everyone knows the goals for the meeting. If the stakeholders in the meeting are unclear of the expected outcomes, poor, off-topic, or useless meetings often are the result. When there is no clear direction, other subjects become the focus and scope-creep becomes a problem. Keep the conversations to the stated purpose.
Topics for Discussion
Any topics that should be discussed with stakeholders should be included it on the agenda. If the 24 Hour Rule is followed, some members will actively do some research and will be more prepared to talk about certain areas. If there is a carry-over of ‘old business’ from a prior meeting, make sure that is completed as the first discussion. Also, on the agenda, define who is going to lead that part of the discussion (team lead, technician, SME, etc.). It is not uncommon for meetings to have several different people lead various area in a single meeting. Finally, I suggest including some time allocation (10 minutes, 20 minutes) for each topic so the meeting stays both on time and on task.
If there are decisions that need to be made, put those on the agenda. A meeting is only as effective as the decisions it defines. Do your best to make sure all discussions are moving in the direction of an outcome.
Like a healthy caterpillar that transforms into a beautiful butterfly, every meeting agenda should become the blueprint for great meeting minutes. Meeting minutes should clearly outline what was discussed, decided, assigned action items, and all corresponding deadlines. Meeting minutes should also follow the 24 Hour Rule and be sent to the stakeholders within one day of the meeting.
Finally, I’d like to offer what I call the sandwich technique for meetings. If you are leading a meeting, always begin by thanking everyone for attending and reiterate the purpose for the meeting. When ending the meeting, clearly re-state the decisions and actions items, including deadlines and to whom it has been assigned. This makes the meeting discussions the ‘meat’ of the sandwich. The problem with many meetings is they are only the meat of the sandwich. Remember: the reason you have meetings is to achieve outcomes, not philosophical deliberations. Without results, a meeting was not productive.
Also, if you need some assistance with organizing or planning meetings, downloading a copy of Tim Milburn’s MPOW (Meeting Planner/Organizer Worksheet) a good place to start.
Hope this helps! Let me know your thoughts.