Take control of meetings before they take control of you

Meetings are one of those essential things of management.  Early on in my career I was fascinated by them, enjoyed them, studied and analysed them, and even looked forward to them.  Fast forward 30 years and I am less enthusiastic.  For me, a successful meeting is one that a) is needed, b) time and cost efficient, and c) makes decisions or progress.

There are lots of different types of meetings, I am thinking of things like: team meetings (information sharing and consultative), focus group meetings (problem solving or opinion gathering), progress meetings (checking how things are going against a clear plan), one-to-one meetings (often private and personal, or focused on the individual or relationship), workout meetings (to sort things out), reporting meetings (sharing information and holding people to account), team building meetings (supporting a teams’ stages of development), and impromptu meetings (unplanned ones that take you by surprise).  There are many more.

All of these different types of meetings present their own unique challenges.  I do have some words of advice to make them as successful as possible.

  • Make sure everyone knows the aim and purpose of meetings.
  • Support people to understand what is expected of them.
  • Always ask, is a meeting needed? Be bold enough to postpone if not.  Think, how much is this meeting costing, the answer may shock you.
  • Think about the stage of development your team is in (Tuckman 1965). How should you approach the meeting so it meets the team’s needs and helps performance?  For example, if the team is storming, I would recommend a coaching style.  Pre-meeting discussions would help as well.  You don’t want everyone to be air their raw grievances in public.
  • Be prepared. Read the minutes or notes in advance, share a timed agenda or a set of goals.
  • Don’t always wait for things to be done in meetings, work in-between them as well.
  • Meetings are not opportunities to show off; if you want to do that join the theatre.
  • You should not aim to hijack people or take people by surprise; instead have pre- or post-meeting conversations to set out what you need. Enable people to be prepared.  Not only will you be more likely to get what you want, things will most likely be quicker.  People may respect you more as well.
  • Remember there are always people who will be first to talk and be active; and others will carefully think and reflect, they will want to speak later or at the end. Make sure you give everyone their preferred opportunity.
  • Be timely, carefully estimate the time needed (for each item and for the whole meeting) so people can better plan their diaries, and don’t be afraid to finish before the stated end. There are limits to people’s concentration spans.  Only in exceptional circumstances should you overrun.  People have other things to do and places to be.
  • Circulate brief notes, agreed actions, and/or important points as soon as you can afterwards. So often these arrive just before the next meeting, that helps no one.

Then we all have a chance to ensure meetings are positive and enjoyable, and we can manage them rather than them managing us.

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