Meaningful meetings

Meaningful Meetings

The mere mention of the word ‘meeting’ brings with it so many connotations and many of these are negative. But why is this? IN many cases it is for good reason that many of us do not like attending meetings because there is so little training done about how to hold an effective meeting, consequently many meetings that we do attend are not conducted well, leading to us not enjoying them. 
Learning to run a good, effective meeting is a skill that leaders at all levels within an organisation should learn, and those that do reap the rewards of it in productivity and general team positivity. In this module we will look at key elements of good meetings that make them as meaningful as possible for your team, so that anyone who attends a meeting actually enjoys being they will walk out at the end knowing more, feeling more in the loop or generally better off than they were beforehand.
To begin with, let’s acknowledge that the purpose of any meeting is, or at least should be, to gather in one space for a particular work-related purpose. This purpose could be to discuss a specific issue such as the school’s response to an article in a local newspaper, or it could be for general reasons such as a staff meeting to discuss several small issues that have arisen or are on the horizon. The reason that people gather at the same time is to make sure that there is a common forum for discussion and the opportunity to build and share a common message. And because the nature of meetings is that they are based on verbal communication, this means that a process of immediate feedback and response underpins the outcomes. 
For the purposes of this module I am going to break down the discussion into three important elements; time, content and people. We will start with time.
There are several aspects to the consideration of time as an element in planning a meeting. The first is when to hold the meeting. If the success of the meeting hinges on how prepared the attendees are, you will need to factor this in. In other words don’t then plan for the meeting to be held in an hour’s time when the attendees require a day or two to ensure they are prepared. Equally if you are anticipating setting deadlines in the meeting, that the attendees will have to meet afterwards, be sure to schedule the meeting at a time that will give them enough time to achieve the deadlines. By considering these two things you will automatically be setting your team up to succeed, even before you start the meeting! 
The next time related factor is how long the meeting should be. I’m pretty sure that we have all gone into most meetings hoping that they will be over quickly so we can get on with other things. However, it is even more frustrating (I’m sure you’ll agree) when the content is rushed in the meeting and at the end you are left with a decision which has come about because of the clock rather than through discussion. The message here is to make sure that you have the right amount of time allocated for your meeting. If you get it wrong, don’t worry, some of the message can be shelved until another time, but do resist the temptation to rush to important decisions. 
And the third time related factor is to stick to timings of the meeting. If you have arranged to start a meeting at 2pm, start it then, even if some attendees have not yet arrived. Many people have a poor habit of arriving late, but if they know that the meeting will start with or without them, you can be sure that this habit will change pretty quickly for most people. However, if you wait for certain people all the time, they become used to it and perpetuate their behaviour, and others, who have bothered to attend on time, become increasingly frustrated. The same goes for the end of the meeting. Try to stick to the end times. If you are not sure how long a meeting will go on for, perhaps because there are meaty issues that need to be discussed, tell people in advance of the meeting so that they know they will be in until the issues have been resolved. 
The second important element of a meeting is the content. As the chair of the meeting it is your responsibility to be properly prepared. Vet the content in advance, making sure you have all required information for any discussions, any paperwork or any other resources you may need for the content to be covered in the way that you want it to be. And make sure that you are familiar with the material, you don’t want to be seen fumbling around with documents or files that you should already be familiar with.
Successful chairs also make sure that the content is made available to the attendees in advance of the meeting, or in the meeting as appropriate. This needs to be a conscious decision process by the Chair. It is no good to ‘fly by the seat of your pants’ so to speak. Successful meetings are all about good preparation and it is these meetings that achieve results and leave people feeling satisfied. 
The third, and most important element of any meeting, is the people. Make sure that you invite the right people, and ONLY the right people. There is little more frustrating than attending a meeting for a couple of hours where you feel the content was irrelevant to you and you could have spent the time on something more important to you. 
As the chair it is also important to understand that the purpose of a meeting will influence the size of the meeting. Bear these figures in mind: If your meeting is a decision making one, where you need discussion and consensus around an important operational or other significant decision that will arise from the discussions, it is better to have a smaller group of key individuals. Apparently group sizes of more than about seven people are not good for decision making. 
If, on the other hand, the purpose of the meeting is to share information, as a result of decisions that have already been made, large groups are better because you can ensure that more people get the same message. Think carefully through your list of invitations.
As the chair you should also spend some time in advance of the meeting, anticipating reactions and responses to the content of the meeting. Know your team! If you do, you will be able to anticipate these responses more easily. Plan your delivery with this in mind. Have your responses ready and know which questions you want to ask, or how to phrase certain aspects so as to get the most out of your gathering. In other words, be as strategic as you can in order to achieve the best possible results from the meeting. 
With all this being said the one key point to keep in mind is how you can gain value and provide value for yourself and the others in a meeting. If people know they are going to get something out of a meeting, they will enjoy attending, or at least feel the value in doing so. If, as the chair, you keep this simple factor in mind, your meetings will become fruitful affairs that will really help you move your team forward. 
And one final point, don’t meet for meeting sake. Schedule meetings for when it is necessary, get rid of additional meetings that happen just because they are in the calendar, and make absolutely sure that you are not over-meeting, because people need time to do their jobs, and leaders that give them time will reap the rewards of high productivity. 
There are several different types of meetings but in the next module we will look at one model of meeting which is becoming particularly popular due to its time saving capability and flexibility. We call it a flipped meeting. 

Point of Reflection

Consider the nature of meetings that you currently attend. Are they well chaired? Are there opportunities to save time in the meetings? Are there always only the right people at the meetings?

Personal Development Activity

This activity will help you structure your next meeting effectively. In your leadership journal, create a template for your next meeting. The template should include:

  1. Title of the meeting
  2. Date, time and venue
  3. Agenda:
    1. Each listed item with a short explanation of what is to be discussed;
    2. Expected timings of each item
  4. Additional documents list
  5. List of people attending

Once you have held the meeting, write a short paragraph of reflections in which you highlight things that went well and where you could have made improvements.