3 steps to transform your meetings
Meetings can and should be fun.
(Read web version.)
Meetings are an essential way to make decisions, facilitate collaboration and foster unity. However, in practice, many meetings are poorly planned and executed. The sub-text to lots of meetings seems to be, “I’m not sure what to do next, but I’ll feel better if we do something.” Perhaps you are like me. My heart sinks when I receive another invite for a meeting without a clear purpose.
This post makes the case for fewer meetings and outlines how the ones we do have can be engaging, effective and fun. I draw from the ideas shared in the book Kill Bad Meetings by Kevan Hall and Alan Hall.
1. Fewer meetings, topics and participants
Meetings should focus on solving problems, making decisions and developing rapport, rather than simply exchanging information.
Typically, however, around half of the content of our meetings is not relevant to attendees or could be delivered more effectively outside a meeting. Meetings that are necessary often fail to adequately engage and deliver appropriate outcomes. Poor meeting culture is often symptomatic of deeper problems, relating to lack of direction, accountability and engagement.
Meetings are expensive, driving direct and indirect costs. Direct costs include: salaries, preparation resources, travel, accommodation and facilities (IT and space). Indirect costs include: opportunity cost (foregone value), dead time (before and after meeting), cognitive resource drain, and the risk of spreading disease (e.g. Covid).
By saying no to meetings (and organising fewer ourselves) we will often be more productive. To help, consider:
Why the meeting is proposed (or needed).
The opportunity cost of the meeting.
A potential better alternative to the meeting.
Declining the invite (with courtesy).
Drop topics that do not align with the purpose of the meeting. This should be done as part of the planning for the meeting, rarely in the meeting itself.
For regular meetings, a good way to gain insight into participant engagement is to construct a table reflecting contributions by topic.
This can identify those topics which result in star group interactions and spaghetti interactions. Star group interactions are either one-on-one conversations (irrelevant for most participants) or broadcasts of information from one person. Star group interactions are best handled outside of group meetings. By contrast, Spaghetti interactions involve active participation from many individuals and are well suited to the meeting forum.
Only involve those who are necessary to achieve the purpose of the meeting. For regular meetings, remove participants from future meetings that have not contributed and are not necessary to achieving the purpose. Often the meeting organiser should have the related discussion outside the meeting itself.
2. Plan better meetings
The only reason to have a meeting is to do something collectively that you could not achieve on your own. - Kevan Hall & Alan Hall
One person should be accountable of organising, running and documenting the meeting; responsibility for aspects can be delegated.
The starting point when planning a meeting is to develop a clear and unique title and purpose for it. Without a purpose there should be no meeting. Each meeting should have the title and purpose stated at the top of related documentation.
Once the purpose is clear, a list of supporting outcomes by topic should be defined. Collectively, the topic outcomes must address the stated purpose. Now the remainder of the table below should be completed, including: the process that will be followed to arrive at the outcome, the participants and their desired contributions, plus the time allocated (in 5 min multiples).
The development of the table can be an iterative one. It should allow for consideration of who the key participants are, what materials and facilities are required to support the process and whether the meeting is built around spaghetti interactions.
Details relating to the meeting, including title, purpose, agenda (based on the table) and any pre-read materials, should be sent out in good time.
3. Help the meeting flow
Many meetings involve participants listening, passively to one person talk to a series of slides. Without an opportunity to actively engage, these forums are boring and frustrating.
The following principles can be used to help improve the meeting engagement and flow:
Start on time.
Focus on the needs of the audience. Make sure all participants have a valuable contribution to make and they understand what it is.
For each topic, make sure the process sufficiently engages participants in a meaningful way. Encourage early participation in generating and shaping ideas.
Use multi-sensory materials, as appropriate, including written, images, audio and video.
Ensure the facilities available for the meeting support the process.
Allow movement and schedule breaks.
Use participant’s names. Seek and provide questions and feedback. Encourage openness.
Record key discussion points, decisions and actions.
Keep the meeting flowing and stick to time. Park out of scope topics and discussions.
Prior to the end of the meeting, share a summary and identify next steps. Thank participants.
Seek feedback on the effectiveness of the meeting and how to improve it going forward.
Makers schedule. Managers schedule. essay by Paul Graham
Meetings aren’t free by 37 Signals
Why Work Doesn’t Happen at Work by Jason Fried
Getting Serious About Your Meeting Problem by Seth Godin
This post proposes fewer meeting and suggests how the ones we have can be effective. Next Sunday’s post will explore why quitting is important.
Until next Sunday, choose the meetings you attend carefully and make the ones you organise great fun. Let me know how they go.