Having every stakeholder in a meeting room and having a productive conversation can beat the tens of e-mails – hands down.
At the same time, each participant in the corporate world discreetly hates meetings because the same meetings could (and they many times do) stall potential decisions.
According to a recent blog, (Author: Scott Dockweiler), 25 million meetings are conducted across the US alone each day. If you are a middle manager, an average 1/3 of your time could likely be your meeting schedules. Whereas, for an executive or senior manager, this number could be as high as half his work hours. In summary, over 15% of an average organisation’s collective time is burt down on meetings, and this number keeps spiralling each year.
In short, we are investing heavily in meetings. But most of these meetings are unproductive. Many times people leave a meeting room with a bitter feeling: oh no, I should’ve skipped this meeting and worked on something productive.
Meetings can be productive, provided you take care of some simple rules to keep them effective. Here are seven tips for you to remember:
- Invite only the right people
Just because Email is free, don’t invite everybody in the organization. Only invite those who can add value to the conversation by providing information, taking action items, making decisions, introducing other experts, etc. If you just want to inform somebody about a meeting happening, just put them in the “optional” list of attendees, or forward the meeting invite to them in a separate Email.
You have to be extra cautious about this when having meetings on the field, with your customer(s). Depending on the goal of the meeting invite only the right participants: technical people, business people, decision-makers, IT people, security experts, etc.
- Set clear roles for attendees
In addition to inviting the right people, you also need to make it clear why they are expected in this meeting, what role they are expected to play.
For example, for a specific meeting, you may want a manager to bring statistics from the previous year’s sales reports. In that case, spell it out in the meeting agenda itself as an action item. Also remind them about it in a separate Email, wherever possible.
Similarly, sometimes you may want people to come up with certain ideas to solve a specific problem. In such a case, mention it in advance so that they can think about it before walking into the room.
- Provide reading material
Send the context of the meeting in few short paragraphs. If there are any reports or documents they can read to get a bigger picture, mention it.
Among these documents, if there is any mandatory reading, highlight it explicitly. Copy pasting relevant text in the Email (instead of putting it as an attachment) works wonders!
- Respect time: especially the time of those who come to the meeting on time
Starting a meeting on time is the biggest challenge any meeting organizer faces. A few participants will come on time, while a few others will walk in late, there may be one or two participants who have forgotten all about the meeting, and they need reminders.
Usually, meeting organizers do all these to ensure everybody is in the room, which is good. At the same time, it shows no respect to those who came on time to the meeting. They are forced to sit idle or read Emails on the phone until everybody else arrives. They will make it a point that they don’t arrive early in any other meeting.
This doesn’t mean you should start the meeting without having the right participants; expect people to forget about this meeting and call them early to ensure they are on the way. This may not ensure the meeting starting on time, but at least saves the delay.
- Always keep the meeting objective in mind
During a meeting, it is possible that people will be attracted towards other discussions which may not be relevant to the topic at hand. In such cases, the organizer has to be vigilant in bringing the topic back on track. This can be done in a gentle manner with comments like, ‘Can we discuss it offline?’ or ‘As we are running out of time, can we focus on the meeting agenda please’?
For this to be effective, meeting organizer should have clear goals for the meeting. As the meeting progresses, he should track if these goals are being met. If not, find out which topics are lacking attention and focus the team towards that direction.
- Avoid unnecessary meetings
It may sound strange, but at least 50% of the meetings can be avoided by sending a detailed Email about the topic or by having few one to one telephone conversations with the stakeholders. However, this is possible only if the organizer is clear on the thought process. Else, he will be inviting hundreds of Emails with no clear closure items.
If an Email replaces a meeting, it should really be a solid replacement. It should provide context, it should provide questions on hand and ask for specific inputs from people, it should also list decisions/proposals and ask people to challenge them if they don’t like them.
Just like a meeting, streamline the conversations. All the participants spending 10 minutes (in their own desks) on this topic can really add value, against everyone sitting in a room and trying to debate, provided the organizer streamlines the discussion and brings the action items clearly.
- Discuss ROI
Whether it is a face to face meeting or an Email/telephone replacement, decisions made and actions agreed should be clear to everyone. They must be tracked electronically to ensure everyone knows how this meeting is helping in the resolution of the problem on hand.
Selling meeting ROI is a crucial tool. Only when people understand they were able to see value in their contribution to your meeting, they will do the required homework and provide valuable inputs to your next meeting.
Hence, wear your marketing hat and shamelessly talk about the significant progress your meeting did. Thank people for their individual contribution and truly make them feel happy about it. This will go a long way in establishing an effective-meeting-culture across the organization, bringing good results.