The 4 secrets to running effective meetings

The 4 secrets to running effective meetings

This sounds pretty obvious doesn’t it: Who doesn’t know how to run an effective meeting?

Well, recent research from Atlassion suggest that meetings are ineffective a whopping 72% of the time.

And that’s not a new statistic. Numbers like that have been popping up for years.

Hybrid working might have changed how you hold many of your meetings, but the overwhelming evidence is that people aren’t finding this new medium makes them any more efficient.

If meetings were just one small part of your life this might not matter.

But they are such an integral part of any manager’s diary that having effective meetings might be one of the biggest wins you have this month!

Do you need a meeting?

One of the things that blew us away when we moved from the corporate world to self-employment was how few meetings you have!

In big business your diary is often structured around the various team meetings that repeat on a monthly basis. Any gaps are then filled when other people want a slice of your time.

Often you’re back to back, five days a week. No wonder people are desperate to work from home so they can catch up!

Small business really isn’t like this. Most of your time is available to “do”, with meetings often the exception.

**If you run a small business this can be a real source of competitive advantage. Your ability to implement while your larger competitors talk allows you to be agile and deliver to your customers at pace**

So the question organisations should be asking up front is: Is this meeting necessary? Can we reduce the time taken? Or cut back on the number of people who attend.

Are the right people going to be at the table, or does tradition and the reporting hierarchy dictate who’s giving up their time?

If your meeting is just an information giving session then can you find another way of communicating?

If this cutting back feels uncomfortable then applying RACI principles (Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, Informed) to effective meeting topics can help focus minds.

If you need a financial justification for cutting back then there are free meeting ROI apps online that will help you analyse just how much each event costs you in management time!

Busyness is not always good business.

Before an effective meeting

If you’re sure a meeting is necessary then the next improvement step sits in preparation and planning.

Different working styles will have very different expectations here.

Some people relish the opportunity to meet with others and will be quite happy with a free-flowing agenda. Often they are those most likely to “think by talking” who enjoy sharing opinions and debating with others.

The problem is that this doesn’t work for everyone.

Many people benefit from clear preparation of meetings. For some it’s a preference for a high-level goal so they know the purpose of the conversation.

Others don’t like to feel pressured, so might want a detailed agenda ahead of the day with pre-reads on key topics.

And while a robust debate might suit people with agile minds and assertive communication styles, others will clam up at the thought of being drowned out by so much noise.

Being very clear on whether each topic is about making a decision, gathering insight, or resolving a problem can really help.

Getting the best out of all attendees means reflecting each of these preferences in the meeting prep. And your meeting hasn’t even started yet!

During an effective meeting

The most frequently voiced complaints about meetings themselves are diverting off topic, conversations dominated by a small number of voices, and (of course) unclear actions.

Keeping on topic can be helped by your pre-planning. But more than this it needs firm and friendly facilitation.

The best chairperson might be someone who’s not the expert in each agenda item.

That ability to stand back from the detail and keep topics and tone on track can be really valuable in ensuring everyone is heard.

Emergenetics thinking preferences can help us understand what different people value in meetings.

People with a Social bent might value a team check-in that to others might seem a bit fluffy.

Someone with a Conceptual preference might enjoy brainstorming and fun ways of generating new ideas.

Meanwhile someone with a Structural preference will be asking where all this is heading and whether you really buttoned down actions on the last discussion.

Although brainstorming became very popular in management thinking a couple of decades ago it doesn’t actually play to everyone’s strength.

Some people will be able to contribute more if they are given time to think quietly alone. This can be done in the meeting, or you might even add it to the pre-meeting prep.

After an effective meeting

You could argue that “after” the meeting starts with your action points. Because if you don’t have actions with clear owners and timelines then there won’t be any follow-through.

Often teams are so relieved to reach some sort of consensus that the scope of the action is forgotten. Someone’s initials get scribed next to a one-liner and everyone leaves happy.

This simple one-line action will make sense when you’re all in the room, but spending time agreeing the format and purpose of what’s expected will help everyone ensure execution.

There’s nothing more uncomfortable than getting back to your desk with an action and trying to remember what it is you committed to!

This might feel laborious in the meeting, but in the long run you’re better off with a small number of clearly designed actions than a long list of wishes.

This doesn’t just play out in operational impact, but it has a measurable impact on trust and team dynamics too.

Delivered well, these actions can be the start point of your next effective meeting.

Having everyone agree what great progress has been made since last time reinforces the positive behaviours you’re looking to instil and starts off your next meeting with a bang.

We help teams to deliver effective meetings as part of our Management Development service. Find out how management training can help you and your organisation.