- Are they typically too long?
- Are they poorly organized
- Are there too many unproductive arguments between the participants?
- Are the same people always hijacking the discussion?
- Are they often getting off track from the topic discussed?
- Are the not starting/stopping on time?
- Is there often a lack of common understanding of what the objective/goal of the meeting is?
- Are participants not paying attention to what’s going on?
- Are there diverging individual agendas from participants overpower the meeting?
- Is there a lack of an agenda?
- Are you missing a productive outcome?
You may have agreed with many if not most of the issues mentioned and there are certainly more one could list. The questions is what can be done about that situation to create great, productive and enjoyable meetings?”
What would a good meeting look like?
Let’s begin with the atmosphere:
There should not be a lot of tension or bad emotions, after all, people ought to get together to discuss a given subject and come up with some alternatives, options, solutions and a conclusion. Although the degree of participant interest may vary from topic to topic there is always a possibility to contribute and/or learn something during course of a meeting. It only requires a level of mutual respect, some authentic interest as well as commitment to the subject at hand.
The willingness to active listening:
Participants listen and give fair hearing to ideas presented without interrupting. The content is evaluated, not delivery of ideas. Open-mindedness is the order of the day and emotional judgment is avoided. It is ok to have different opinions on a matter.
The ability of respectful disagreement:
There is a healthy disagreement and exchange of view (not disputes). Differences are resolved without getting personal and are not left to fate. Consensus can be reached often or at least a useful compromise.
The commitment of active participation:
Members fulfill their function by making their relevant contributions. There is mutual interest to find the best outcome to the matter at hand without the impact of individual agendas.
A keen sense of awareness:
Members do know what the meeting’s objectives are and are contributing to the common good without compromise. The briefing in advance of the meeting has been adequate.
The application of constructive criticism:
Any form of Critique is healthy and not vindictive. It is constructive, not intended to be destructive or personal.
Would you agree with such a meeting environment? Does this sound attractive? Of course, it is also unrealistic unless you are committed to do something to make it possible. I have some suggestions which can help to improve meetings and potentially bring the above indicated scenario closer to reality. If you are willing to apply these basic steps below, productive and enjoyable meetings might become possible.
- Clarify what kind of meeting this will be, i.e. to come to a decision on something, to have a brainstorming, to inform about something, to discuss alternatives/options for further processing, etc.
- Define as specific as possible what you would like to see as the outcome of the meeting when it is done. Think of it as a “SMART” goal definition.
- Reasonably high (stretch)
- Time specific
Your meeting outcome definition (meeting goal) must meet all 5 criteria.
- Make sure to invite the right people who can truly contribute to the specified outcome. Don’t invite people that won’t be able to productively contribute or have only a tangential interest in the subject at hand. You can always get their input separately or you can copy them on the meeting minutes to keep them in the loop.
- Inform the participants you invite about what kind of contribution is expected from them so that they can be prepared. The more specific you can be the better the result.
- Start of time without compromise and ideally finish on time to clearly show your respect for the time investment of the meeting participants. Your diligent effort into thinking it through and plan the time required will be greatly appreciated! Should you run out of time check with the participants if it is ok to run longer or if you should re-convene at a different time. Never take it for granted to extend the time.
- Manage confrontational arguments very tightly. If the tone becomes emotional call a time out and raise questions to bring the situation back to the subject. The most powerful question to ask in such situations is “what is really important in….” or “what is the most important issue we would have to tackle?” Such questions help the participants to get back to the matter of the meeting and will create a more constructive and productive environment.
- Follow up the meeting with short minutes emphasizing the key points of the discussion, any specific contributions and the final outcome produced as well as unresolved issues or follow-up requirements if applicable. It never hurts to thank the participants for their time and effort… J
I know this means a little extra effort on those that call and lead meetings. However, if you are willing to invest the effort and time into thinking the meeting through upfront in this way as well as structure your meetings in this fashion you will realize better meeting results. As a by-product participants will be more enthusiastic to join your meetings and become stronger contributors. Try it out a few times and see what happens. What do you have to lose…?
Good luck and let us know if about your success in leading effective and productive meetings!