22 Feb 5 Ways to stope the meeting madness
I am not the first, nor will I be the last, to have a moan about meetings. There have been many articles, books, and opinions shared on the matter. There are too many to list here, but I do wonder if any of the individuals who wrote them foresaw a worldwide pandemic introducing a new age of meetings with which to contend.
The movement of thousands of people to a remote working environment over the last two years and the wide-scale increase in video meetings has, rather than reduced the number of meetings we’re holding, increased them.
And what’s more, now we don’t have to leave time for travel, or time for people to move from meeting to meeting. Now we can book them back-to-back, with barely any time for a toilet break in between. I’ve had days where I’ve been stuck at my desk for five hours straight, going from one Zoom meeting to the next without any breaks. And whilst I agree that there is some need for meetings in the corporate world, the part of me that is driven towards efficiency and organisation asks: Are all these meetings productive?
The answer is obviously ‘no’. I would wager that maybe one out of three meetings which I attend needed to be a meeting, and an even lower percentage of these are clear and concise about what the meeting’s objective is, let alone structured in the correct way to achieve that objective. Meetings are a necessary evil, but if you just tweak a few ways in which you go about them, it can really make a difference to how many you need and how productive they are.
- Have meeting objectives, not agendas.
Imagine getting a meeting agenda that lists four different topics that are going to be discussed, who’s going to cover them, and how much time will be allocated to each topic. Then imagine instead getting a meeting objective that states “To agree on the next steps for the Smith Project”. Which one makes you feel more engaged with the meeting?
Knowing what the objective of a meeting is before it starts means everyone is on the same page, has the same goal in mind, and stays focused on it. In my experience, meetings with objectives are shorter, and it’s clear and easy to determine whether the meeting has achieved what it set out to do when you’re wrapping it up.
- Write up meeting actions, not minutes.
Minutes are, in my opinion, a very old-fashioned approach to documenting meetings. If I refer to meeting minutes it will be to confirm the actions that were assigned to me, or to clarify who I need to follow up with on other actions. Trawling through pages of unnecessary verbatim notes in order to find these is neither efficient nor engaging. Let alone the time spent by some poor individual who is typing up these notes knowing that no-one will ever read them again!
Which would you, and your colleagues, be more productive with: Three pages of meeting minutes, or a list of points agreed, actions, and to whomthey’re allocated?
Admittedly, there is a need to be flexible with this, as sometimes you may want or need to note who signed off on something, or agreed on a project to proceed, but even these can be documented as very straightforward post-meeting points. I suspect most meeting write-ups can be kept to one page consiting mostly of bullet points, and I challenge you to try this after your next meeting to see what response you get.
- Have a Chair or Lead at every meeting
This doesn’t necessarily have to be someone more senior than everyone else, it just needs to be someone who is able to bring people back to the objective of the meeting if it goes off on a tangent; someone who can ensure that it doesn’t overrun it’s allocated time and who can also be in charge of the invites/dial-in details and other meeting admin. The Chair should be the person who issues the meeting objectives prior to the meeting, and who ensures the actions are circulated after the meeting so that everyone is clear on the next steps.
- Limit the number of attendees
I cannot emphasise this enough. People will not be offended if you don’t invite them to a meeting, unless it’s one that is specific to their role or areas of responsibilities.
Inviting people to ‘listen in and see what we do’ or to ‘come along in case they have something to add’ waters down the focus of the meeting and adds too many parties to the conversation for it to be productive. This is especially true in video meetings, where if attendees exceed a certain number, you can’t see everyone at the same time, and everyone ends up talking over on another.
Review your meeting objective, then identify and invite the individuals that absolutely need to be at the meeting for you to complete that objective. Encourage people to assign other team members who they feel may be more appropriate or have more useful input than them, and don’t insist that they both come. If the objective is clear, and you have the right people in the meeting, it will be complete in half the time and achieve twice as much.
- Go for a walk and talk instead.
Steve Jobs was a big advocate of walking meetings and whilst they are not easy to do during remote working, they are something to bear in mind as we return to office environments. Our brains are more relaxed when we are walking. Walking side-by-side creates a peer-to-peer environment which breaks down boundaries. This makes ‘walking meetings’ particularly good for tricky conversations or problem-solving. Walking meetings have been proven to increase creativity in participants and double up as important self-care tools for getting employees moving and away from their desks.
Meetings have been done the same way for years, and it’s hard to break the mould. There’s a quote I like: “The six most expensive words in business are ’We’ve always done it that way’.” It’s true – just because something has always been done a certain way doesn’t meant that there isn’t a better way to do it. Rock the boat a little and change the way you go about holding meetings in your business. I’m confident your staff will thank you for it, and your bottom line will improve.