Want to make your meetings more effective? Here's a checklist

Meetings make up a significant portion of a working professional’s day at work. Yet much of this time is spent on meetings that could have been simple emails.

A study on business meetings conducted in the United States shows that 64 meetings are attended monthly by most employees, 50% of these meetings are considered ‘Time Waste’ and 31 hours are spent in unproductive meetings over a month. Overall, US businesses lose $37 billion as salary cost of unnecessary meetings. 

How do we tackle this? 

Before proposing a meeting, have legitimate reasons to conduct a meeting. Ask yourself these questions - could this meeting be replaced with an email? Would it be OK for the majority of people present in the meeting to ignore the majority of the content? Can I ask everyone to email their updates periodically, rather than conducting this meeting? If the answer to these questions is ‘Yes’, you know what to do. 

A meeting should majorly be conducted for any of the following reasons: 
  1. Discuss/Debate something - when you want to share or discuss everyone’s opinions on a controversial topic. Eg: Should we revamp our employee benefits policy? 
  2. Engage in brainstorming - to build energy and have the group contribute with their ideas. Eg: Let’s come up with some new ideas for hiring a Sr. Business Analyst
  3. Complex Negotiations - ideal to work out the details of an agreement, partnership or contract. Eg: Let’s meet with the client’s senior team to freeze changes in the contract
  4. Building Camaraderie - to improve morale and collaboration at work. Eg: Let’s meet to welcome the new joiner to the team
Most importantly, never hold a meeting just to update people.

But what do you need to conduct an effective meeting?

Follow a simple checklist, of course you may modify it as per your reality. 

Work starts before the meeting is conducted.
Your responsibility starts right when you send an invite for a meeting. Before a meeting is conducted: 
  1. Have a clear Agenda - it should be concise, clear and in order. This helps you and everyone else stay on track during a meeting as it is very common for meetings to lose track. 
  2. Send prep material in advance - email any references to be used, such as reference documents, along with the meeting invite, preferably 24 hours in advance. Handing a 10 page document or a detailed graph/excel just before starting a meeting wastes time. Sending material before hand enables attendees to prepare and ask relevant questions rather than the ones that add no value.
  3. Find the smallest room that will reasonably fit the group - people won’t be spread out and this, in turn, encourages interaction.
  4. Prep yourself - Always know what do you want to accomplish with the meeting you are conducting and stick to it. Ask yourself what your colleagues are looking to get from this meeting, and make sure they get that out of the meeting.

What should you do during the meeting?

Your responsibility starts right when you send an invite for a meeting. Before a meeting is conducted: 
  1. Begin with collaboration - It is important that everyone is on the same page at the very onset. The simplest way to do it is saying “Today, we’re going to discuss X, Y and Z to have outcomes A, B and C”. Such a start allows alignment, increases the organizer’s credibility and shows that you are prepared for the meeting (even if you are not)
  2. Limit interrupting - it is important that everyone is given an opportunity to present their views. Even if they are going on the wrong track, let them complete - maybe they were getting to another point? Plus, it is simply rude. 
  3. Limit distractions - ban devices. You don’t want people to use their phones. Sometimes the innocent ‘note-making’ on a laptop divulges into another dimension. Simple note-making on a pen-paper should be encouraged in most cases. Device usage not only distract the user but also irritates or insults, in some cases, the presenter.
  4. Project meeting notes on a screen - everyone knows what progress is being made. It is easier to refer to anything, if required. More importantly, it helps to avoid confusion - for example when two people hear the same conversation but write down two different action items.
  5. Neatly wrap up the meeting - recap key decisions or reflect on the insights gained from the meeting and end by assigning action items with a timeline to the tasks.

Is your job done after a meeting is conducted? No

After most meetings, there is no follow-up taken on the items that were discussed. Even if they are discussed, some are always missed, because they were never tracked. Follow the following points after a meeting: 
  1. Send Meeting Minutes - Meeting Minutes should be concise and informative. Minutes should be shared with all attendees and with other stakeholders, even if they were not part of the meeting.
  2. Track items - based on your requirement and reality, you may track the following items
    • Points of Discussion - for recurring meetings, such as scrum meetings, points of discussion can be tracked in a simple format to keep track of the developments over a long period of time
    • Action Items - to maintain accountability and improve efficiency of task tracking. Project Management teams use tools such as RACI Matrix (RACI - Responsible, Accountable, Consulted and Informed) where every action item is allocated different people - a person responsible, a person accountable, and so on.
    • Attendance - attendance tracking can be beneficial in case of certain recurring meetings. The conductor of the meetings can track this on a simple matrix.
    • Tracking - RACI Matrix or Custom Tracking

Lastly, always keep in mind...

  1. Have fewer meetings - many employees feel overwhelmed by the number of meetings they attend. It is a best practice to ask yourself if the meeting is actually required.
  2. Keep the meeting size small - it is harder to pick up on people's body language when there are 20 people in the room. Most attendees will end up agreeing with each other instead of voicing their own opinions. Jeff Bezos gives a simple advice: Never hold meetings where two pizzas couldn't feed the entire group.
  3. Keep the meetings short - never conduct meetings that last more than 60 minutes. People lose concentration in a long meeting and the quality of the meeting quickly deteriorates.
  4. Video Call  > Phone Call - people are less likely to multitask on video calls (4%) than on phone calls (57%). Video call increases focus for both the attendee and the organizer.
  5. Request that everyone stand - Stand-up meetings tend to go more quickly and they're just as productive. In fact, a 2014 study found that teams that stood during meetings were more creative than teams that sat in chairs.

One of the biggest mistakes employees make is feel productive after having a day full of meetings that had no conclusion. Most of such meetings can be cut-short, avoided or conducted more efficiently if simple guidelines were followed. Organizations lay a huge emphasis on productivity but often miss such minute but important considerations that make a drastic impact when the numbers are multiplied.

“Time is what we want most, but what we use worst.”
William Penn

1 comment:

  1. Really great article to run effective meeting.


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