Death by Meetings? It Doesn't Have to Be This Way
If the title of this blog resonates with you, it’s likely you’ve spent more than your fair share of time in meetings that seemed like overkill or were simply unproductive. You may have felt at times that your company or superiors were meeting just to meet and that it was a poor use of your time. Unfortunately, this feeling and aversion to meetings is becoming more common among executives, managers, and employees alike, where everyone involved wishes they could be doing something more productive with their time. It’s important to remember the simple fact that meetings, particularly those held in-person, provide a unique opportunity to connect to the humans with whom we work, so as a facilitator of meetings, that should be leveraged for more productive interactions. If you are involved in planning, hosting, or facilitating meetings, I hope the following ideas help to create a starting point to making those meetings more worthwhile for everyone involved.
First thing is first - you’ve got to recognize the need to re-energize your meetings and then take action. If you sense that your team is less than motivated to make it to your meetings or if you personally believe they could be more productive, then you need to make a commitment to changing the status-quo. In order to do this, you’ve actually got to stop and take time to plan thoughtfully for your next meeting. There is no doubt that you feel a tremendous amount of pressure and stress and that it may appear that there is little time to plan for a meeting, but trust me, it will be worth your time. Planning in advance for every facet of your upcoming meeting will ensure that you and your team maximize your face-to-face time together.
Set an agenda. I understand that this may just seem like common sense, but you would be surprised to learn that many managers who host meetings do not set an agenda (or at least if they do, they don’t share it with the team). If you’ve ever been a victim of a meeting that had no agenda, then you know how terrible the experience can be. More than setting an agenda, I would also encourage you to make sure that your team receives the agenda in advance. This can easily be sent the same day in the body of an email, but it’s a courtesy that I know your team will appreciate. By sharing the agenda in advance, it allows your team to anticipate the topics to be covered and also to do a little planning of their own. It can help to encourage quieter team members to speak up if they have time to consider what they’d like to say in advance. Trust me - people will appreciate this. Finally, make sure that your agenda is also displayed or disseminated at the meeting.
Determine and communicate a well-defined objective for the meeting. If it feels like you wish to accomplish ten different objectives during your meeting, you’ve got to take a step back and consider, ‘What is the most essential outcome for this meeting today? What is the most critical item that my team must achieve?’ Keep the objective simple but also defined in a way that you will be able to determine whether or not it was met by the conclusion of the meeting. It is also equally critical to communicate the objective with your team at the start of the meeting. Tell everyone what you hope to accomplish in your time together and let them know that you plan to revisit it at the end of the meeting. This will help provide focus for the conversation and also a sense of accountability and the need to reach an immediate goal for your team.
Add value and be human. If you host or facilitate a meeting, consider how you can add value to your team with your contribution. What I mean by this is, what can your team learn from you being there and being present that they would not have otherwise learned? If you are presenting sales goals or statistics, think about your analysis or projections and share those with the team. Consider sharing insights that your team may not have known prior to the meeting. Share unique tips or strategies that you have developed. Deliver these pieces of information with kindness, sincerity and a sense of humor. Don’t be afraid to share any shortcomings that lead to the strategies you have developed along the way. Sharing these personal stories will help to establish you as a secure individual and also it will help to develop trust within your team.
Provide an opportunity to interact. Don’t forget about the most basic fact of meetings - they bring humans together. There is something to be said for the value of seeing your colleagues during a busy day and having the opportunity to exchange ideas in a face-to-face setting. If you are a facilitator of meetings, make sure that you provide at least one energizing activity that helps your team to work together towards your goals. This could be breaking up into smaller groups and brainstorming solutions to current obstacles before coming back to share them with the whole group. Capitalize on the time your team is physically together and make sure that the team 'connects.'
Stay the course and keep your eye on the time. Though you want to provide ample time for connection and input from your team, you need to make time-keeping a priority. Time is the one thing that no one has enough of, and therefore, you show respect to your team by sticking to the outlined agenda and meeting-end time. To do this, you’ve got to become a seasoned facilitator that allows for questions, but can manage them if they are derailing the time train. This is also another reason why planning ahead is important. If you already know all the topics that you plan to discuss, then you can easily manage questions from employees that arise. For example, if your meeting consists of discussing a new software that will be implemented, and an employee asks about a certain aspect of the technology, you can quickly let him or her know that yes, it will be covered and use that as a natural segway into the topic, or you can respond and let the employee know they can expect to learn about that particular aspect in the next meeting. Knowing your plan allows you to manage time more effectively.
Bring an observer and request criticism. If you wish to become a better meeting facilitator, then you should consider asking someone to come along to the meeting to serve as an observer who will give you candid feedback about your meeting management techniques. Tell your observer that you want to know what you did well, but more importantly, you want to know where you may have fallen short. Make it a goal to have your observer report back at least one aspect of the meeting that could have been better and ask for specifics. If you encourage this level of feedback and accept the criticism willingly, this will ensure that you will excel in facilitating meetings over time.