Simple Rules for Effective Meetings

Here’s a new rule for people who wish to create a meeting:

Al Pittampalli asks “What difference could you make that requires no one’s permission other than your own?”  Do that first.  Don’t call the meeting until you have done that.

What do you think?  Feasible?

Exploration Team Meets K-Stan Civil Society

A Vaccination for The Meeting Virus?

“Lets meet to discuss it”  Black holes.  Time sinks.  They feel like progress, but they really are avoidance of the real work.

The average man spends 4.34 hours each week in meetings, the average woman 2.28.  75% say that these meetings were ineffective (NY Times research).

In my years as a management consultant with Accenture I was privileged to live 10 corporate cultures.  I worked in oil, retail banking, insurance, government department, monopoly telephone and mobile telephony.

Nowhere was the culture of meetings more widespread nor more ineffective than the ex-monopoly telephony company.  There were many employees whose concept of a job was attending meetings.  They did nothing except travel to meetings, sit through meetings, plan meetings and complain about having to attend so many meetings.  However, they spent so much time in meetings because it was far easier than the alternative of actually taking a decision, justifying it and getting on with implementation.  Meetings were used as an escape from personal responsibility.

“What difference could you make that requires no one’s permission other than your own?” 

If you have done that, and now need further resources you can call a meeting.

The leader’s role is to take the difficult decisions.  The meeting’s role is to present that decision and plan execution.  The leader’s role is to keep the meeting on track.  Anything that does not contribute to refining the decision or executing the decision should be taken offline.  Writing side issues up on a big flip chart in the room can be a great way of showing that these side issues have not been ignored, but this is not the time and place to debate them.

If the leader does not know what decision to take, a group meeting will not help.  1-to-1 sessions with affected people, peers, consultants can help the leader shape the criteria for the decision.  Often the most powerful tool is a blank sheet of paper and some time alone reflecting and thinking.  No meeting should be called without the basic criteria for taking the decision already in place.

How to solve Problems

Problem solving in business should be systematic.  Intuition has a role, but only within a systematic framework that ensures you are looking at the whole picture before jumping to an overly simplistic solution.  Here are 6 Steps for Business Problem Solving.  Work through these 6 steps before asking others for input.

My New Rules for Meetings…

  • There Must be an Agenda – No plan, no meet; How? and What? are both important; Plan together, agree agenda;
  • Hard edges – start and end on time. The end time is as important as the start time; don’t accept drift – leave. Don’t waste people’s time, finish when done.
  • Provide work for meeting – Don’t let people just wander into the meeting and say “Hey, so what is this all about then?”  Give pre-reading.  Give questions to consider before people attend the meeting.
  • Chair the Meeting – Participate, get focus, maintain momentum and reach closure;
  • Bring Tools – Each person must have pencil, paper, agenda;  Meetings are REAL WORK.  Require preparation. Give people things to read or do before the meeting, and if they don’t, kick them out.
  • Parking Lot – Send off-topic ideas to the Parking lot.  Do not allow drift.  It is not just your time that you are abusing.
  • Demand Presence – Mobiles off?
  • Include Everyone – End asking “Did we miss anything?” to every participant
  • End with Actions –  Distribute minutes (who was there, key items discussed, actions agreed with completion date); The organizer of the meeting is required to send a short email summary, with action items, to every attendee within ten minutes of the end of the meeting.
  • Seth Godin’s Rule – If someone is more than two minutes later than the last person to the meeting, they have to pay a fine of €10 to the coffee fund.

And 3 bonus ideas… but not quite in the category of Rules

  • Start with something interesting – A story, Music, a video, One word from each person… something that breaks with mundane and says that this meeting will be different
  • Preparation 10 minutes before – Every participant should be taking the 10 minutes before the meeting begins to think through how they can participate, what a good outcome looks like, what questions they have.
  • Sometimes…  Remove chairs – Don’t allow people to be comfortable – keeps discussion short and focusses on getting closure and action.

Can we put these rules to work?  Any thoughts?  Would love for you to join the discussion here on the LinkedIn Group.  Have a great Friday.

Author: Conor Neill

Hi, I’m Conor Neill, an Entrepreneur and Teacher at IESE Business School. I speak about Moving People to Action.

Exit mobile version