I have a tendency to skim over information that seem like territory I've covered before. Just because I've covered it doesn't mean others have, however. I have to keep getting thunked on the side of my head with painful reminders that just because I know something doesn't mean others do. This is particularly true with presiding over and participating in meetings. If I want to stop wasting time in meetings that don't go anywhere, just avoiding them won't be enough. I have to help others--especially colleagues--learn to be more effective.
Here then, are 10 tips (10 commandments?) to avoid death by meeting. Please help this campaign for more effective meetings by spreading these everywhere, posting them on meeting room doors, hanging them in employee bathrooms, turning them into meeting evaluation tools, and printing them directly on payroll stubs.
1. Be sure the meeting is necessary. Every meeting is a cost against productivity unless it is a specific investment in building productivity or reducing inefficiency.
2. Meet even if everyone can't be there. Certainly you will want to make a sincere effort to find a mutually open time, but can you realistically expect that everyone involved can be present--even with tools that allow for virtual connection? You simply must build in pre and post meeting communication and build up team members so that more than one person can facilitate -- especially when you are the one who is absent.
Web-based tools to handle complex scheduling of meetings are wonderful! One of our favorites is Meeting Wizard.
3. Provide a written agenda in advance. You get organized. You look organized. Participants get past their first impressions before the meeting begins. The agenda gets honed and focused.
Do you want to be a superstar? Add time frames for each agenda item.
Do you want to be a stratospheric superstar? Honor the timeframes.
Do you know how easy it is to honor timeframes? Start with NEVER asking if someone has something to add to the agenda. Then, stop taking agenda items that were not vetted prior to the meeting. Perhaps the biggest frustration in meetings is co-opted agenda from people who did not prepare.
4. Include time to develop skill. A moment or two dedicated to skill-building, to gathering your wits, to setting aside externalities in order to focus on the agenda, to team-building, or even to consider how to move beyond current best practices, sets the stage participating in a meeting where something is going to happen.
You might even distiribute content ahead of time, a brief article that provides background or perspective for an issue on the agenda. Ask a provocative question or two as part of the agenda with expectation that EVERYONE will offer their response.
5. Make use of transitions. People need to follow their biological rhythm. Intense mental work happens in pulses rather than in a steady push. And, these pulses follow the neural pathways a person has in place. Provide uncrowded, brightly lit meeting space conducive to standing, stretching and moving. Use a seating configuration that allows people to see each other as they do their work. Plan your transitions from one agenda item to the next as carefully as you order the agenda.
6. Keep things moving. Move briskly through the agenda, making sure folks have opportunity to ask questions and make their comments, but not waiting overlong for them to invent something. You can mitigate against rushing or feeling like you are forcing, by communicating well ahead of the meeting and making it possible for people to communicate post-meeting if something they had not thought of previously comes to light.
The assumption is that people will prepare. If they didn't, they are not given permission to take over the meeting. A couple of meetings where they can no longer co-opt the process and they will begin doing their homework. It is okay to raise expectations!
7. Watch body English. Be alert to signs of boredom, fatigue, disagreement or anxiety. Respond to them and adjust the pace accordingly. Swap agenda items around if you believe it will help to keep you moving. This is more art than science, but the more attentive you are to meeting dynamics, the more sensitive, nuanced and responsive you can become.
8. Finish on the upbeat. Save a particularly strong, pleasant or interesting item for last. Walk away from the table with a sense of success and progress. Last impressions linger.
9. Make specific assignments. Anything that needs to be carried over to the next meeting should result in specific, named assignments. Otherwise, you will waste time at the next meeting talking about what you talked about all over again.
10. Summarize in writing. Any record (minutes) of the meeting should identify decisions made. The following information needs to be conveyed:
- WHY are we doing this?
- WHO decides, supervises, follow through, needs to be consulted, funds this decision?
- WHAT is the criteria of success as we follow through?
- WHEN must this work be completed?
- WHERE will this work be done (sometimes not necessary)
- HOW will be proceed?
Distribute this as soon as possible.
Here is a .pdf with the 10 commandments for your use. Anything you can do to help reduce death by meeting is appreciated.