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5 Steps to More Effective Meetings at Work

By Edited Sep 15, 2015 0 0
Meeting
Meeting is defined by Merriam-Webster as "a gathering of people for a particular purpose (such as to talk about business)."  Unfortunately these gatherings happen way too often in the corporate world with varying levels of success.  Many of those meetings are poorly run, ineffective, and a waste of time.
 
The 5 steps listed below will help you to run more effective meetings by eliminating the unnecessary ones, getting the right audience, having a clear goal, defining next actions, and capturing notes.  With these 5 steps you will get better results from your meetings and save everyone some time.
 
1. Don't schedule meetings unless necessary
Avoiding unnecessary meetings by only scheduling those that are really needed is the first big step. Before you schedule a meeting, ask yourself the following two questions to determine if a meeting is needed:
 
  • Can we solve this problem without a meeting?
A lot of problems can be solved without a meeting.  Maybe it will require a one-on-one conversation with someone. If so, walk over to their desk or pick up the phone.  If there are multiple people that you need to communicate with, think about whether you can address it via email.  If the issue at hand is something that will not require a lot of negotiation or discussion, then it should definitely be done by email.  An added benefit of using email is that it will force you to clearly state the issue and what you need in return.  By getting to a clearly stated problem, you are more likely to get a clearly stated answer.  
 
  • What are we trying to accomplish in the meeting?
If you can't define a clear goal and purpose for the meeting, then you shouldn't schedule it. In addition to being a waste of time for everyone invited, it will reflect poorly upon you and you may become known as one of those people that routinely schedules useless meetings. 
 
Take some time to think about what you are trying to accomplish.  Don't schedule a meeting and expect to figure out what you are trying to accomplish in the meeting.  This will be a waste of time and is almost guaranteed to require a second meeting after you figure out the goal.
 
2. Invite the minimum amount of people
After you have determined that you really need to have a meeting, you have to figure out who to invite.  Too many times, I see people invite a laundry list of people to a meeting.  The more people you have, the more likely you are to get driven off topic and pulled down rabbit holes that don't need to be explored.  Target only the key decision makers for the item that you are trying to address, and try to keep the total number of attendees to 5 or less.
 
One reason you end up with a large audience is that people are unclear on who is needed to make decisions.  Because of this lack of clarity they want to cover their bases by casting a wider net. If you find yourself in that situation, take a minute and ask for some assistance from a peer or boss in identifying the key decision makers.
 
Another reason the invitee list grows is that companies and groups within companies are not good at giving individuals decision making authority.  If you work at that type of company, then you often end up with an individual, their boss, and maybe even their boss' boss in the meeting.  This is a tougher issue to get around because you can be dealing with larger cultural issues within the company.  In this situation you may end up having to invite more people, but you should focus in on one of them as the person that you are expecting to make the decision.  By driving the conversation toward that one person you can minimize the amount of back and forth.
 
3. Have a clearly stated goal and agenda
When scheduling a meeting have a clearly defined goal and an agenda for how you plan on accomplishing the goal.  This detail should be in the meeting invite when you send it out.  By sending it out in advance you will give people time to prepare for the conversation.  
 
Also, the agenda is good for staying on schedule and getting people back on topic.  There will always be someone who wants to discuss every possible detail and go through every possible scenario.  With a defined agenda you can stop those tangents and get back on track.  The more you stick to the agenda, the more reluctant people will be to go on those tangents.
 
4. Clearly define next actions
As you are working through your agenda, you will identify questions that still need to be answered and things that need to be accomplished.  As you identify these items make sure you are asking the following questions: 
  • What is the next action?
  • Who is completing it?
  • When will it be done?
It is easy to talk through an issue and get to the end of the meeting with that feeling that you accomplished something, but then no one is clear on who is taking responsibility for the next steps or exactly what they are.  By asking those three simple questions you will be building out a plan to keep things moving forward toward resolution.
 
5. Capture and distribute notes
Now that you have finished the meeting there is one last step to make sure that you get everything out of the meeting that you can.  You need to take your notes and distribute them to the team.  
 
I am not talking about meeting minutes.  I have seen people take true minutes of the meeting and capture every item that was discussed and who was involved in each part of the discussion.  That is overboard. Here are the details that you need to capture:
  • Key decisions that were made and any rationale behind those decisions
  • Next actions with owners and dates for completion
These details will help serve as a record for future reference and will help to clarify for everyone involved what actions they should be taking next.
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