10 Tips for Great Meetings
Your meetings are a mirror to your culture.
They say everything about the health of your leadership, the skills and practices that exist within your organisation, the social norms that govern your company and the systems and processes that support your success.
Our 10 tips for great meetings will help you build relationships, engagement, results and enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of your entire organisation.
Tip 1 – Establish Meeting Disciplines
There are 3 disciplines here:
- Establish the meetings your business or team needs in order to communicate and coordinate action – make sure they happen!
- Determine the meeting purpose, structure and focus.
- Allow sufficient time, start and finish on time.
Begin by identifying the key conversations you need to have as a business and the amount of time you believe will support quality discussions and decisions.
If you’re leading a business and require connectivity with all of the functions, it’s wise to set up regular (weekly) meetings that have a functional focus (operations, sales, marketing, etc) and stick to the cycle. Ideally these happen early in the week to establish your team’s focus and rhythm. If you’re more project-based, it’s beneficial to understand key communication channels and organise meetings around milestones. Identify key stakeholders required at milestone meetings and make sure they’re involved and informed early.
Take time to determine the purpose, structure and focus for the range of meetings you convene. There may be more formal meetings with rigid agendas, issues-based meetings focused on resolution, design-thinking meetings to innovate, or simply a huddle. Daily huddles are a great way to check in on progress and roadblocks – both expected and unexpected and these are wise to establish as a daily practice. Of course, the skills of human interaction (detailed below) will be key to foster.
In all cases, start and finish on time – no matter how difficult this may feel. If attendees are 10 minutes late, they’ll soon start to realise the cost of not being on time. You might even consider a cultural shift on meeting length being 25 and 50 minutes rather than 30 and 60, to allow people a 5-minute wrap up, comfort break and ‘location change’ time.
Tip 2 – Use a “carpark”
In most meetings items will arise that were not planned for, nor anticipated. This is a key moment for the meeting Chair. The Chair will need to decide whether there’s room for additional discussion or whether to ‘park’ the discussion and determine the better avenue to progress. This decision is one ‘art’ of Chairing a meeting, but whether you discuss the item or not, it’s the Chair’s role to ensure the idea is not lost.
It can help if your car park is visible to all in the room (on a whiteboard or digital board) and to make sure that items are recorded in a way that represents the discussion point, issue or concern and represents the actual contribution. Make sure there’s enough information gathered in the meeting to recommence the discussion item at the next opportunity.
Managing outlying ideas like this will encourage your people to bring new ideas to the conversation, since they’ll feel confident that they’re listened to with a place to revisit ‘overflow’ topics and decide later.
Tip 3 – Run to the Agenda
It can help to have a standing Agenda for each meeting, so that attendees and contributors have a roadmap for meaningful contributions. It’s inevitable that conversations drift off topic in most meetings, and you may establish a convention that a 5-minute diversion becomes an acceptable deviation. However, it’s the Chair’s job to declare the deviation and to get back on track for the sake of ensuring all agenda items are heard.
If you find that your meetings continuously go over time, perhaps you need to review your standing agenda and re-cast it to meet the actual needs of your team and organisation. Ideally this is done as a collaborative exercise, where regular attendees have input into and agree to the Agenda change.
Be clear on the role of the Facilitator or Chair
If you’re in a position to elect a Facilitator or Chair, ensure they have the competencies to:
- Establish great context.
- Establish times, roles, rules and time keep.
- Allow all voices to be heard.
- Summarise issues and identify challenges and concerns.
- Listen for opportunities and park these for future conversations if necessary.
- Clarify requests and commitments and ensure timeframes are involved.
- Hold attendees accountable to prior commitments.
- Prevent power plays and dominant voices from swaying discussions.
- Ensure minutes are recorded, accurate and reflective of conversations.
- Prioritise key discussions.
Rather than leave meeting effectiveness to chance, consider building the conversational competence of your key leaders to facilitate meetings and demonstrate these skills.
Tip 4 – Mindfully prepare ahead of the meeting
There’s nothing worse than coming to a meeting ready to make a contribution and that chance never eventuates. Or feeling any meeting was a waste of your time.
If you’re the Chair, establishing the meeting or running the project, let your attendees know ahead of time the expectation around their involvement. This includes ensuring commitments are met, distributing any items you need them to review with a respectful lead time to give others a chance to contribute well and make a great decision alongside you. Let your attendees know if they’re merely being advised or whether you want them to be active in participating in specific decisions. It can also be helpful to allow attendees the opportunity to reflect ahead of time by tabling key documents and questions a week in advance so that attendees arrive thoughtful and prepared and you can use your actual meeting time well!
Tip 5 – Develop and encourage meeting skills
Anyone attending meetings inside your organisation should be equipped with the skills for meaningful meeting attendance. Assuming the Facilitator or Chair sets up the meeting dynamics and context well, skills for meaningful meetings include:
- Being present and tuning in to the conversation.
- Listening and recognising each person’s propensity to listen with a bias.
- Creating compelling ways to express ideas and influence decisions.
- Negotiating requests and commitments in a way that attendees are confident with what they agree to.
- Being respectful and allowing others to speak up or respectfully challenge when issues arise.
- Note-taking to ensure documented commitments reflect the agreements.
- Expressing concerns in a way that builds confidence and trust for the group.
- Know when to check for shared understanding when the meeting goes quiet.
If these skills are under-developed inside your organisation, consider a development plan to enhance and build them over time.
Tip 6 – Create meeting standards
For all meetings and critical projects in particular, it can be helpful to meet at the outset and document an agreed range of commitments each team member both contributes to and agrees to. This establishes the conditions and standards for belonging to the team and if everyone signs on, offers a baseline for future conversations if one of more team members breach any agreement. High leverage inclusions are agreements to show up on time, to prepare anything requested or required ahead of the meeting and to have the items you’re speaking to in good shape to support ease of communication to meeting attendees.
It can be worthwhile displaying the team agreements in meeting rooms as a reminder of the standards each attendee is expected to meet. Over time, these can evolve a cultural meeting ‘standard’ that supports business outcomes.
Tip 7 – Start with a Meaningful Opening Conversation
It is the Chair or Facilitator’s role to ‘show up’ in a ‘constructive mood’ and create the meeting tone, frame and context. To begin, it is helpful to allocate 10 minutes at the start of each meeting to allow every participant to ‘check in’. That is, each person has the chance to tune in and be present at the start of the meeting, and to express or declare any concerns. They should also identify a constructive mood they commit to for the duration of the meeting for the sake of constructive conversation, meeting outcomes and time well spent.
The desired impact of any check in is to help each person take responsibility for the mood they generate for the team as well and be present for the conversations about to take place. This opening period will allow the Facilitator or Chair to balance or harmonise any attendees who arrive with an unhelpful orientation or mood and ensure the meeting is not derailed.
Tip 8 – Identify meeting behaviours and hold everyone accountable
Meeting behaviours are specific, observable and repeatable actions that all attendees undertake in support of the shared agenda. They include being seated at the meeting start time, arriving with an Agenda, contributing to relevant conversations, listening to others without interrupting, asking questions when things are not clear and mindfully committing to requests. If one of more meeting attendees is not behaving in line with the agreed behaviours, then the conversation must be initiated by the Chair. Ideally in the very moment that the non-conforming behaviour arises and otherwise, offline after the meeting. These conversational practices are critical to maintain a team’s accountability, focus and morale.
Tip 9 – Keep a Commitment Register
The entire purpose of a meeting is to bring a range of different people and perspectives together to make progress on a specific issue or domain of action. Ideally, these conversations involve requests and offers that produce commitments. These must be documented on some form of register to track the commitments. Preferably this includes what the commitment is, who the commitment belongs to, when it will be delivered and any other specific standards that support quality delivery. It is best that this register is a living document, tracked live inside the meeting for the sake of accountability, peer line of sight and progress towards the shared goal or purpose.
Tip 10 – Make space for all voices
The quality of a meeting is determined by the individual and collective practices demonstrated by those attending and their commitment to the shared purpose. Balancing tasks, results and the human needs expressed inside any meeting forum is part of the art of effective leadership. Meeting Chairs or Facilitators should demonstrate skills to involve all voices, manage moods, conversations, provocation, accountability to key priorities and keep each person engaged and moving towards the shared goal. Investing in developing these skills and practices as the intrinsic way your team members ‘show up’ will offer your organisation the best chance of achieving what it sets out to, as well as enhance the engagement and innovation potential of your team.