I often hear people say that they spend too much time in meetings. And that got me thinking … are we frustrated because of the amount of time we’re spending in meetings, or are we frustrated because of problems with the meetings themselves? Is the problem not “how much” or “how many”, but “how good”? For the sake of this post, let’s assume that it is (work with me here!). So what can we do about it?
First, let’s focus on some fundamental things to remember any time you’re working with a group of people:
- Be respectful. Respect other people, their ideas, their time and their perspectives. Require everyone else in the meeting to be respectful, too. There’s no better way to alienate people, and therefore shoot your meeting in the foot, than to be disrespectful.
- Be considerate. Closely linked to respect is consideration. Take others’ needs into account when planning the meeting. While you can’t necessarily choose a time, place or topic that will make all of the attendees jump for joy, you can (and should) take others’ wants and needs into consideration.
- Be nice. Some of the best advice I ever received was simple: “Be nice to each other.” I’m often amazed at the ways in which people can express their “respect” or “consideration” for someone else’s ideas by rolling their eyes, shaking their heads, crossing their arms, or sighing heavily. In meetings (and in the rest of life, too), be nice to each other in your interactions.
OK, so what are some ways to put these principles into practice when planning and facilitating a meeting?
- Determine whether to call the meeting. Does the meeting really need to occur? Could you gather the needed information from a phone call, email, or in-person interview?
- Identify the goals of the meeting. Determine what you want to accomplish within the meeting and as a result of the meeting. Do you want to brainstorm, share information, make decisions? What criteria will you use to determine whether the meeting was a success?
- Identify the required attendees. Once you know what you want to accomplish, you can determine the list of people required to reach that goal. Unless your goal is to spur discussion or brainstorm, it’s typically better to keep the list of attendees as short as possible, while still allowing you to reach your objectives for the meeting.
- Select a time and location. Pick your time and location based on your participants’ availability and your goals. Try to find a location which is convenient for all attendees, so that they don’t have to spend a lot of time getting to and from the meeting. Be sure to choose a room that contains the tools you need (materials, AV, network connections, and seating to support your goals). Choose a time that is both available on your attendees’ calendars and conducive to productive work. 4:30 on Friday afternoon may be free for everyone, but will they be focused on the task at hand?
- Set and distribute an agenda. Your meeting will be more productive if the attendees arrive ready to get to work. Prepare an agenda for the meeting which lists the time, location, attendees, and the topics you want to cover in the order you plan to cover them. Ask your attendees to send you any questions in advance so that you can clarify expectations and make any adjustments necessary before the meeting begins.
In the second part of this post, I’ll cover the steps in facilitating the meeting and what to do after the meeting is complete.