What’s on The Agenda? The Art of Effective Meetings This may sound like a very easy goal to achieve, but for an activity we do so much and that is so integral to our businesses, it is an activity that most people are notoriously bad at. Meetings are generally longer, less efficient and generate fewer results than ever before. We now need more meetings to accomplish objectives, leaving employees less time to get their own work done and companies out of pocket. The average worker wastes two hours and 39 minutes each week being unproductive in meetings. That is over 120 hours per year, which equates to £26 billion in terms of GDP lost to the economy.* So, what are the reasons for all this wasted time? Why do meetings fail to be effective? The truth is that most of us have never experienced the power of a truly effective meeting. With seemingly more work and less time in the day, we don’t spare time to put effect into ensuring a meeting is successful – we just want to get it out the way. As a consequence, very few companies can boast to have any role models or best practice standards when it comes to facilitating effective meetings. So what can we do to mitigate the risks of meeting failure? Many people drastically underestimate the importance and power of effectively planning a meeting. The why, what, who, when, and where deserves as much thought as the meeting itself. Let’s start with the why and what. Every meeting must have an agreed purpose and a clear objective that everyone is aware of, not just the chairing individual. If there is no clear purpose or objective (e.g. it has just become a habit for a team to meet on a Wednesday afternoon), then there does not need to be a meeting. It is a common assumption that the solution to everything is a meeting. This is precarious and wrong. A lot of the time a couple of emails or phone calls can be just as effective. Once you have a clear purpose, you need to consider who you should invite. People should be invited according to their ability to contribute, NOT according to their status. Try not to be influenced by politics, as the smaller the number of the people in attendance, generally the more effective the meeting. When is the most ideal time to hold a meeting? It is best to choose a time when people are more alert and less distracted. This is likely to be in the morning, allowing people to get in and settle, but not so much time that they get bogged down in other work which may prevent them from attending or contributing optimally Don’t always assume that the best place for a meeting – where – is in a standard meeting room. Match the purpose to the means and consider the sort of atmosphere you are trying to create. A creative brainstorming meeting is likely to
be more successful in a less formal setting with a relaxed atmosphere – perhaps even offsite – where people feel encouraged to open up and offer ideas. For a formal client meeting a classical meeting room and set-up will usually be more appropriate to convey a professional image.
When arranging an e-meeting of some kind, make sure you are using the right tool; everyone knows how to use it; people don’t talk over each other; people’s interest is kept by frequently asking for feedback; and words are chosen carefully to avoid misinterpretation.
Covering the why, what, who, when and where, will make a good foundation on which to build an effective meeting, but the real key to an effective meeting is a clear, well-structured, and well-communicated agenda.
Lastly, it is also your responsibility to ensure that you are a good meeting participant. Personally prepare for every meeting, don’t be late, be alert, listen actively, make succinct and valuable contributions, and stick to the point.
If an agenda is put together properly it will create a route-map and direction for everyone involved. It will help the meeting organiser plan the meeting; communicate the meeting purpose; provide all participants with the information they need to prepare for the meeting; and last, but certainly not least, create a structure to manage the meeting.
Remember that the first question should always be: Is a meeting really necessary or appropriate? Always query whether a meeting is the most effective way of achieving an objective to avoid wasting time, resources, money and causing frustration and stress.
What should an agenda include? • Meeting purpose and objectives • Information about place, date, time and duration of meeting • Who will be present • Specifically what business will be covered • Approximate timing of each item • Links to/attachments for any additional information needed for the meeting A handy rule is to always ensure that your agenda is SMART: Specific Measured Action-based Realistic Timed Participants should be careful not to fall into the trap of trying to cover too much in a meeting – keep it realistic, and allow an appropriate amount of time for each item. Otherwise it may result in issues being skirted around without being discussed in any depth. Always recognise and evaluate the benefits of useful debate on a topic and balance this with the need to keep to the agenda and time. When planning an agenda, it is equally important to consider the flow of items to ensure that it is logical, but also that the most important points are covered first when people’s attention and focus is at its strongest and running out of time is not an issue. It is not always a good idea to leave contentious issues to the end, as this may result in people leaving the meeting with a negative feeling and the issue may not be resolved. Always try to finish with something that will generate consensus, so people will leave feeling positive and that the meeting was a success. Ideally, minutes should be written up and circulated as soon as possible after the meeting, detailing key decisions, actions and the responsible persons in a concise, impersonal style.
* According to a study carried out by Opinion Matters on behalf of Epson.
Meetings SHOULD be used for: • Getting information or advice • Involving people • Clarifying issues • Establishing responsibilities
Meetings SHOULD NOT be used for: • Doing detailed analysis • Writing reports • Rubber stamping • Personal issues of a controversial or confidential nature A ‘great’ meeting saves time and money, results in decisions being made, new ideas being realised, people feeling motivated, increases morale and aids team development – all of which have a positive impact on the business bottom line.
Effective meeting checklist ✓
Agreed purpose and clear objectives
Begins/ends on time
Stick to the subject
Agreement on decisions and further action
Published on Sep 3, 2013
The Art of Effective Meetings, Investments and Wellington Boots, The Retail Distribution Review, IoM – Where You Can, The End is Nigh, CSR –...