10 Ways to Have Effective Meetings
Meetings are essential, and meetings waste a large amount of time. Both of these statements
are true. Whether you spend most of your time attending meetings, or holding them, you can
be more effective.
- To meet or not to meet, that is the question.
Is this meeting essential, and do you have to be there? Will the telephone, e-mail or a
walk along the corridor settle the matter? Are you the best person to attend, can
someone else attend in your place? Is the meeting being held because it is always
held at that time and you attend because you always do, or do you have a contribution
to make? Only hold a meeting if it is absolutely essential, and only attend one, if you
can make a contribution.
- Travelling time
If you have to attend a meeting that involves travelling is there an alternative method
of communicating? Video, audio and telephone conferencing save time and money
and are much more readily available than previously. If you have to travel, take the
fastest and most comfortable routes the budget will allow and use the time
productively, and if driving yourself is the only option use your time to listen to
teaching or training cassettes to improve your skills.
- What are your objectives for this meeting?
Are you hoping to gather information, solve a problem, make a decision, provide the
group with information? Be clear in your mind why the meeting is being held and
what outcome you are hoping to achieve. Make sure everyone else knows too.
Every meeting should have a written prioritised agenda with the most important items
first. Prune the agenda so it can be covered in the time allowed and make the items
sufficiently detailed so that attendees can prepare adequately. If you are calling the
meeting, make sure the agenda is circulated in good time, if you are attending a
meeting, make sure you read it!
- Keep the numbers to a minimum
Invite only those who need to be there -- calculate the costs involved based on the
salaries and overheads of those involved and make sure the outcome is worth the
expense. Meetings with large numbers of people inevitably take longer than small
ones, remember, time is money!
If you are holding a meeting, avoid on-the-hour starts. People are more likely to be
punctual if a meeting starts at 11.20am than at 11.00am. Set a finishing time, and
stick to it. Arrange meetings just before lunchtime or at the end of the day, they will
be less likely to overrun. If you are attending a meeting, be punctual, late arrival
wastes time and therefore costs money.
Too frequently meetings are used to escape from paperwork and the telephone, and so
are likely to degenerate into general discussions rather than remain focused. If the
agenda is short, keep everyone standing: people are more alert when standing and
nobody will want to needlessly prolong the meeting.
- Manage the meeting
Whether or not you are the chair, you can help to keep the meeting focused by paying
attention; by keeping your contributions concise and to the point; questioning
relevance of comments of others; by not engaging in one-to-one discussion;
summarising decisions and reiterating action points.
- Minutes and meeting notes
Writing minutes is too important a job to be delegated. Unless constitutionally
required, keep the minutes to an absolute minimum both in language and content -
avoid the 'and he said and he replied' approach and just name the action required, the
person accountable and the completion date. Distribute the minutes within 24 hours so
that no one has an excuse for not completing the action on time. If you receive
minutes requiring action that does not agree with your own notes, check out the
problem immediately don't wait for the next meeting.
- Value-analyse your meetings
At the end of the week take the time to analyse the meetings you have held or
attended and ask yourself: Was the action agreed worth the time spent in the
preparation, attendance and minute writing? Was the total amount of time spent by
those attending justified by the action agreed? Take a look at next week's diary, and
go to item 1 above.