Meetings - How to Run Better Meetings

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There are several aspects to meetings: when to have them, who to invite, what structure and format to take and what type of meeting to run.

But first, why do we have meetings?

“Meetings are an opportunity and framework to get resolution, reach conclusion, share ideas and move forward – for those leading the meeting AND those attending”.

Find 5 things you can do to run more effective meetings.

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Meetings - How to Run Better Meetings

  1. 1. Phil…on Meetings According to Phil Baldey (of www.strategicpulse.com ), there are several aspects to meetings: when to have them, who to invite, what structure and format to take and what type of meeting to run. But first, why do we have meetings Phil? “Meetings are an opportunity and framework to get resolution, reach conclusion, share ideas and move forward - for those leading the meeting AND those attending”. 1. When to have meetings? Many organisations have meetings for the sake of meetings. To have less, more effective and efficient meetings is better than having many meetings. In saying that, I believe there are some meetings that should be regular, whether they be weekly, monthly, fortnightly, even daily if required, depending on what you are trying to achieve. It is important that meetings happen when they are meant to happen. If a key person is away for the meeting, the meeting goes on – even if it is the meeting Chair who is missing - because the people who are part of that meeting should be able to run the meeting themselves and get some outcomes from it. Regular team meetings should occur even if the Chair thinks there is nothing to discuss. Though there may be nothing on the agenda, a regularly- prescribed meeting offers an opportunity for other participants to bring up agenda items. If you follow the process of “what’s working, what’s not” in a short 10-minute round, it is likely to act as a prompt to the sorts of things that should be discussed. Exhaust those opportunities rather than not have the meeting. Often when there’s nothing on the agenda and people relax a bit, that’s when some of the real gold comes out. So I encourage meetings to be held irrespective of whether or not there is anything obvious to be said. 2. Who to invite? Meetings need to be well conceived before they take place. Too often they are called on an adhoc basis, then not all the appropriate people get invited. Have a look at what you are trying to achieve and make sure that you have people from within the organisation or even from outside the organisation who can add value to the meeting. I don’t believe in on-the-fly meetings, I believe they should be structured and organised. The 5-minute chat is not a real meeting and can, in fact, detract www.strategicpulse.com - info@strategicpulse.com
  2. 2. from another meeting’s purpose. Save the little things that seem important for the next scheduled regular meeting. 3. Structure All meetings should have an agenda. This is not being bureaucratic, nor should each meeting necessarily have a new agenda, but there should be a standing agenda for every meeting. I like a format that incorporates a catch- up meeting – what’s good, what’s not so good, what needs to change and ensure that everyone comments under those three headings. In this way, you get to know what is happening with people. It also creates engagement. Therefore, it is the role of the person chairing the meeting to ask for, or solicit, engagement. Establish the length of the meeting before it commences. Operational meetings may go anywhere from 15 minutes to 2 hours, longer meetings may be needed for strategic planning sessions, etc. Q. Frequently, people do not arrive to a meeting on time. At what stage do you start? All meetings start on time irrespective of who is there. Once people know this, it flows into the culture of the organisation. I appreciate that you might have to do a catch-up for latecomers, but they need to understand that the collective good of the organisation requires that the meeting starts on time. The cost of not starting on time is huge if you add up the opportunity-cost or salaries of people involved. Start on time, finish on time. I never send people out to find people who are meant to be in a meeting because then you start to lose the thread. Those who are there stay there and get on with the meeting…because it is all about respect. The expected outcome needs to be clearly defined as well – what are you there to achieve? If it is a catch-up so be it, if it is a project meeting to work on certain milestones or outcomes, then these need to be clearly spelt out at the beginning. If there is pre-reading required, don’t assume people have read it because they often haven’t. You don’t want to spend meeting time re- covering what is in the reading material. You need to say “you were expected to read this information, however I don’t want you to make decisions if you haven’t. I need a declaration of who has and hasn’t read this information.” By doing this, people start to change their behaviour and come to the meetings prepared, having done their pre-read. Through meetings you can change the culture of an organisation, stamp leadership and set expectations, allowing people to take on responsibilities through the process. Therefore if you are slack with your meetings, chances are you will have less than appropriate performance from your management team...because they don’t know where the boundaries are. Structure a meeting into segments. For example, you may run a meeting from 9-11am; 9-10.30am could be the team catch-up, 10.30-11am include invited knowledge experts to cover certain points that require their expertise. You then have a timeframe to work to and focused use of the people that you bring to the meeting. www.strategicpulse.com - info@strategicpulse.com
  3. 3. If 75% of the people in the meeting are not engaged in a particular discussion, then it is important to take that discussion ‘offline’ ie away from that meeting. Even if the outcome is relevant to the majority, the discussion may not be and the two parties need to come to agreement in another forum. I ask for their commitment to resolution before the next meeting so that they can report on the outcome at that meeting. This keeps things moving forward. Recording meetings Some meetings require formal minutes (eg AGMs); some need less formal notice of actions, timelines and the owner, or person/s taking action. Notes do not necessarily have to be published, everyone records the individual actions applicable to them. What is important is that the ‘control’ notes are reviewed at the beginning of the next meeting to ensure everything has been actioned. Q. How do you stop that review taking over the next meeting? At the beginning of the meeting, set out what you are trying to achieve. Whilst you review what has happened previously, you still have some business to get through in this meeting. Quickly check to see that everyone has done what they were meant to do. It is also important to create an expectation that once the new meeting comes around, last meeting’s jobs have been done. Participants should not wait to see the recorded minutes before they take action. What often derails meetings and consequentially organisations is that people have not had a clear steer as to their ownership of a project or task and timelines. 4. Format Meetings can be formatted according to the purpose: Stand-up meetings are simply that, meetings where seats are not provided. They create a quickfire response and focus so that people are immediately engaged. Revolving-door meetings involve allocating an hour or so eg 4-5 pm on a Friday afternoon with an open invitation for others to line up outside the door for individual 5-minute meetings. Whilst it may seem archaic to have people lining up outside the door awaiting their turn, it is a fantastic way of people getting access to someone. They know they have just 5 minutes to get their point across, often people in line with similar issues will work that out and enter the door as a group. It is a fluid way of approaching meetings and an effective use of one hour of key resource time. Open meetings have an open invitation. It may be to share a key person’s professional or project knowledge or to seek feedback from a range of people. Panel meetings allow you to speak to a number of experts or cross- functionally across the organisation. Choose what is appropriate for what you are trying to achieve www.strategicpulse.com - info@strategicpulse.com
  4. 4. Q. Sometimes it seems as though there needs to be a social context to meetings, eg provision of time for food, drink and small chat. Is this correct? No, my focus is to conduct the business, the meeting is to get collective minds working in the right environment, not to go off on tangents - to keep to the point. There are times where there may be some social interaction, eg in company-wide meetings food may be provided and individual stories shared. Yes, we need to connect with people attending a meeting, but it is not a time to catch up personally. 5. Types of meetings What type of meeting will you run? Senior Management Team (SMT) and Operational Management Team meetings get teams together in their relevant areas of responsibility. I believe that to move things forward in an organisation one needs to create projects, therefore, regular Project Team meetings are important. One-on-one meetings are often forgotten or ill-conceived, or left to the 6 or 12-monthly review periods defined by human resource processes. I believe regular one-on-one meetings with your direct reports are very important. Q. Is that different to a performance-review type of meeting? It is not the formal performance review process but at the same time it can act as a review of how that person is performing at that moment. It looks at work- in-progress, attitudes and strategic inputs that a person can bring to the organisation or project. The person running the meeting, commonly a direct manager, asks the person they are managing what is working, what is not working and areas they can see for improvement for themselves and the organisation. It is a chance for someone to have self-disclosure and increase confidence to speak with their manager. It is a great way for personal development but also for the manager to find out what is happening within their team. If a manager has up to eight direct reports - the maximum I recommend – and a commitment to meeting with each monthly, then with two-a-week meetings, they have met with the whole team personally each month. Q. How do you stop these one-on-one meetings becoming ‘tell-tale’ sessions? There are some risks, but huge benefits as well. It is important for the manager to handle disclosures delicately and to know how to utilise, manage and support the person they are meeting with. It is not to chastise those who have been talked about. At the same time, when the manager speaks to the person who has been talked about, he can use this knowledge, solicit some more information and then determine on balance whether it is true. One-on-one meetings are a great way to manage people. Organisations that have regular one-on-one meetings have the best relationships with their staff, the closest understanding of what is happening in the organisation and can see issues before they arise, thereby avoiding serious blow-ups. www.strategicpulse.com - info@strategicpulse.com
  5. 5. Skip meetings skip a level or more within the organisation, eg a CEO speaking to people at the coalface can find out what is happening at that level. It should be done with the endorsement of the managers who are being skipped. Company-wide meetings are important to update company status and to find out what is working or not. Commonly, the CEO and SMT chair these meetings, they need to talk in the language of the lowest level of knowledge in the organisation. Therefore, it is not the time to talk about EBITDA and other high-level financial phrases that laypeople may not understand. Typically newspapers are written at the literacy level of a 13-year old, I suggest that these meetings are run at the same level with discussion of things such as whether the company is making profit or not, the challenges facing it and how is the company going to deal with them? Is there risk, what does it mean to the individual, are jobs secure? These are the things people need and want to know. Q. Do the same issues apply to meetings with people who have a relationship with the organisation eg suppliers? The philosophy expressed here relates to external as well as internal meetings. Its not so much a discussion of how to manage external relationships, more about how to manage meetings. So if you are negotiating with suppliers, the same principles apply as discussed above in relation to structure - you need to be clear upfront as to what you are negotiating about in the meeting, what are the negotiables, what are the non-negotiables, what is your connectivity with that person; who else from your organisation needs to be involved to gain a balanced viewpoint, what can you expect to achieve out of the meeting. There may not be the same level of transparency with an external party, but the more transparency that exists the better the result. Finally, whilst I have said ‘less is more’, I am emphatic that SMT and Project Teams meet regularly because it creates the momentum between each meeting to get things done. Acknowledge achievement of tasks set at one meeting at the next meeting; review lack of achievement or progress and set expectations to take the project or issue forward. Through that expectation you are more likely to get delivery between the meetings – and get resolution, reach conclusion, share ideas and move forward – the reason meetings take place to start with. www.strategicpulse.com - info@strategicpulse.com

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