How to Run an Effective Meeting
BY: MATT SHEALY ON TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 13, 2018
Is there anything worse than setting up a meeting for your staff and knowing that the main reason they're all showing up is just because of the donuts? When you're planning how to run effective business meetings, there's got to be something in it for the people that are expected to show up for the meetings. Otherwise you'll end up with a tableful of people that are checking their phones and jotting down their lunch order rather than paying attention to what you're trying to say. Running effective meetings can help lead to a great company culture, so go the extra mile and make it really worth everyone's time.
Here are our top tips on how to run an effective meeting
Start on Time (and End on Time)
According to the Harvard Business Review, executives spend an average of nearly 23 hours a week in planned meetings. While meetings are important and useful for executives and non-executives alike, they can keep employees from completing other work. If there's a perception that their work is being jammed into less hours of the week because they have to sit in unproductive meetings, that can cut into an employee's satisfaction at work, which makes them more likely to leave. If you are expecting employees to interrupt their deep thinking and be available for a group meeting, make sure it starts on time. If the meeting time or place changes at the last minute, you could risk people showing up unprepared or not showing up at all. Or worse, the on-time, prepared ones are idly sitting in their seats while they wait for everyone else to get there.
Avoid Vague Agendas
The most effective meetings have a specific and defined purpose. A general status update could be accomplished with an interoffice memo or notification on the company's private IM network instead of bringing everyone to the conference room. Using tools other than group emails (where not everyone who might be cc'd on the email needs to be on it) and avoiding unnecessary meetings is a key way to make business communication faster. Make sure that what you want to accomplish at your meeting is clear and has a value for everyone that you're inviting to the meeting.
Consider the Purpose of the Meeting
If you're making an announcement, invite only those employees who are directly affected by the announcement. The other employees can likely be informed of the change in a less time-consuming manner.
Anyone who is not directly affected by the change or who does not need to provide an opinion on it will likely see the meeting as a waste of time.
If you're seeking input from others to try to solve a problem, give those stakeholders plenty of advance notice of what you're looking for so they can prepare their thoughts and notes in advance of the meeting. If the problem you're trying to solve will affect other departments, invite those leaders along with anyone else who can shed light on the problem you're having. Just make sure to give everyone a heads up so they can be informed and prepared for the discussion.
Schedule for Maximum Engagement
If you're looking for a brainstorming or problem-solving session, consider scheduling that first thing in the morning when everyone's brains are still fresh and while they still have plenty of time to go back to their desks and finish what they need to before the end of the day -- or at least, before lunch. If you have remote workers or global workers who may be in another time zone, take that into consideration so no one is left out. If someone is going to be inconvenienced no matter what, check in with them first and find out if they would rather miss the meeting and get caught up later, or if there's a better way to include them.
When you schedule at the right time, i.e., not during lunch hours or at the end of the day when people are distracted, you'll enjoy better participation and more robust idea sharing.
Stick to Your Agenda
Take the time to prepare an agenda for your meeting. Once everyone's at the table, stick to that agenda. Write it on the whiteboard or print it out in advance so everyone knows what will be covered. Plan out how long the meeting will last and how many minutes you can devote to each agenda item. Email that to all of the attendees in advance.
Preparing an agenda helps in a few ways. For the meeting planner, taking the time to prepare an agenda with time limits makes it more likely that only the very important topics will be covered. The meeting planner may even eventually come to realize that the important points could be more effectively covered another way. It keeps attendees focused and aware that there is a limited time in which to cover the important points. It also makes it less likely that someone will hijack the meeting by talking more than their fair share. If someone does bring up something that is off-topic, place it on a follow up agenda (see the section End With an Action Plan).
Allow room for thoughtfulness
Stick to your agenda yes, but allow for a few minutes at the end of the meeting for people to share their thoughts. If someone does come forward with an objection or criticism, make sure they know that it's not a career-ending move and that you appreciate their thoughtfulness. Let them know that you'll follow up with them
later to learn more about whatever their concerns are. Effective businesses are responsive, and this employee may have a genuine point.
Show a genuine willingness on your part to hear alternative points of view. This in turn increases the sense of camaraderie and teamwork and your tone can go a long way to build trust among the person speaking up and the other team members. If the points are worth following up on, place it on your follow-up agenda and find out more.
Assign Someone to Take Notes
If you're leading the meeting, you likely won't be able to write down who said what. You have your agenda, but unless someone takes notes for you -- or you awkwardly try to write or type notes as people speak -- you'll lose the valuable information that was brought up. As the meeting leader, if you're typing things out on your computer while everyone else is sitting there with only the pre-printed meeting agenda in front of them, they could justifiably assume that you're checking your email or Facebook instead of leading the meeting.
It's common for people in a group meeting to leave with very different takeaways. Assigning one person to take notes means that everyone else can focus more intently on the meeting itself, and they leave with takeaways that are a lot less subject to individual interpretation. Having an assigned notetaker means you can easily send out minutes or a summary of the meeting to attendees after it's over, which increases the follow-through of your meeting action plan.
End With an Action Plan
The person taking notes should clearly delineate what the action items are and who is responsible for them, and include these in the meeting notes that are sent out to each attendee. (The meeting notes should also be posted online in an accessible place in your office intranet in case anyone needs to refer back to them.) Include any points that people brought up that were off topic so they can be explored at another time.
The action plan tells everyone at the meeting "who's got the ball" and what the plays are that the team is now tasked with following through on. Having each employee's name on a list next to a bullet point of what they are expected to do next is a very visible representation of the purpose of the meeting. This also reduces the time spent after the meeting on follow-up meetings, phone calls, and emails to make sure everyone understood what they were supposed to do.
Follow these tips and you can change the personality of your meetings from painful to productive. It may seem like leading an effective meeting is a skill, but really, it just comes down to planning and preparation. Front-loading your meeting with a little effort reduces the time everyone else has to spend, and that leads to a more productive and happier team. Don't stop bringing the donuts, but by following these tips on how to run effective meetings you can be sure that the donuts aren't the only reason that people are showing up.