Dr. Neil's Notes
General > People
Holding a good meeting can be hard. I have worked with companies that have a good meeting culture, and other companies that (being polite about it) have an average meeting culture. This topic has been well written about, and there are plenty of resources on how to hold better meetings. In this note I will summarize the steps I have seen to make meetings better.
Before a meeting is organized someone has to determine the meeting is needed. The first question to ask, should be, 'does this need to be a meeting?'. If a meeting is held to create a forcing function to get answers, or decisions made, and if the answers, or decisions, can be obtained by sending an email, then the meeting should not be held. Send an email instead.
Meetings can also be used as a way to reinforce a political structure, or hierarchy. If meetings are being held so that managers can feel good about themselves, lording over the people that report to them, stop it. If meetings are held for upward management reasons, so that people can validate their existence to their managers, stop it.
Meetings should have value to those present. A meeting should provide an opportunity for discussion, debate, brainstorming, and alignment between people. If a meeting is used to dictate how things will be, then it can be a memo, not a meeting.
Once you decide you need to have a meeting, then determine who needs to be there, and why. Each person in a meeting should have a reason for being there. There should be some value each person is bringing to the meeting, and/or some value each person wants to obtain from the meeting. A person that turns up purely because they were invited is wasting their time, and potentially the time of the other people in the meeting.
The final part of the setup should be to have a clear agenda for every meeting. Decide if any information is going to be presented in the meeting, and if so make sure it is forwarded to all attendees before the meeting. Time box the presentation, then time box the questions. If a discussion is required, then what is the outcome being sought? Again time box the discussion in the agenda, with a clear statement of the goal of the meeting.
Starting a meeting can sometimes be awkward, however a simple practice that is always worth doing is to start with introductions. Provide 30 seconds to each attendee to introduce themselves and explain what they want from this meeting. This lets everyone know why everyone else is there. This part can be skipped if you hold recurring meetings, with the same group of people, to achieve something that cannot be done in a single meeting.
Stick to the agenda. If the agenda has 15 minutes for a presentation, keep to the 15 minutes. Use time as the forcing function to drive the meeting agenda. If it is clear the time cannot be kept then it should be raised with the question 'should this be a different meeting or even a meeting at all?' Keeping a meeting focussed will help make it valuable.
As a rule all meetings should be optional for most attendees. Obviously if you are being asked to attend to present some information then you cannot be an optional attendee, you are needed. However I sit in a lot of meetings where the majority of people are not getting value out, or have value to contribute. People attend the meeting because of a fear of missing out, or being seen to not participate. This is wasting everyone's time.
My final advice, which I often find hard to follow, is to leave your emotions at the door when attending a meeting. If you feel angry, or sad, in a meeting it is often better to leave the meeting. If other people are actively getting emotional in a meeting, then leave. The opportunity for this meeting to have productive outcomes is trending towards zero.
Every single meeting should have clear outcomes. There should be a set of actions determined along with the person responsible for those actions. These should be explicitly stated at the end of the meeting. It provides a good way to end a meeting, and it is clear who is going to do what.
Whoever organized the meeting should send a follow-up email, as soon after the meeting as possible, detailing the actions decided, and who is going to be responsible for each action.
Time is valuable
A note about time. A meeting with five people, lasting an hour costs five hours of time. The more people, and the longer the meeting, the more expensive the meeting. Keep this in mind when you invite 20 people to a 90 minute meeting, this meeting is costing 30 hours.
Each of us has a finite amount of time. Time is the most valuable thing we have. Money can be earned and lost, time can only be lost. You cannot earn more time. If you find yourself attending a lot of meetings and wondering why you are there, then stop.
In a healthy work place, all meetings are optional. If you are asked to come and present some information, then consider if you need to be in the whole meeting, or can you attend only the time when you are presenting, and time to answer questions.
Created: November 6, 2022 00:01:44