The saying, “Time is money” rings loud and clear when it comes to business meetings. A successful meeting ends with concrete results, while a poorly managed one equals wandering minds, and off-topic tangents. Knowing the keys to managing an effective meeting is one of more important business skills to nurture.
Why hold meetings, anyway?
More companies are turning from the “top down” model, where the CEO acts as a command center, to rely on collaboration and an open exchange of ideas. This, in turn, leads to an increased number of meetings. The Harvard Business Review noted this change a few years ago:
“In the old command-and-control days, people did not need to gather together as often. But as the workplace has become more collaborative and democratic, experts say, organizations have needed more meetings to share information, receive people’s input, and make group decisions.”
Now, with more people working remotely, more meetings are held in online “conference rooms,” making effective meeting management even more vital. Below are five basic tips for holding meetings that end in results.
1. Only meet when needed.
Is that weekly managers’ meeting necessary? Many managers schedule weekly or even daily meetings as a way to stay on top of projects, results and their budget. But much of what’s covered in these revolving meetings can often be easily handled through email or a Google doc. Both formats allow the manager to set directives and goals and check progress, with team members responding to specific requests and questions—without wasting valuable time. Then, a team can meet in person monthly or even bi-monthly for any catch up or final decisions.
Other alternatives to regularly scheduled meeting include:
Pick up the phone. It’s surprising how much can be accomplished in a three-minute phone call. Instead of a 60-minute meeting among a 5-person team, you can chop that time in half by asking each member specific questions and providing information tailored to the results you expect.
Tailor your email. It can be challenging to untangle multiple answers on an email thread, and contribute in a way that adds value. For an email “meeting” that gets results, pasting in a Q&A template will result in a clear, easy-to-follow document that can even be part of the team’s or company’s report.
Brainstorm first on a Google docs. Meeting in person is a great way to boost creative thinking that brings new ideas to the table. But it’s not the only way. Using a shared document like Google docs provides time for ideas to percolate and takes the pressure off to instantly react to an idea or question, allowing for more thoughtful responses.
2. Keep goals front and center.
Having clearly defined objectives in black and white will keep a meeting on topic. A simple tool to keep everyone’s focus on point is an agenda. A great agenda lets people know what to expect, what they need to prepare, and helps keep everyone on track. Be sure to:
State clear objectives.
Let team members know what you expect them to bring to the table.
Prioritize of agenda items. What’s most important? What item depends on first completing a different item?
Include a time limit for each agenda item.
Separate agenda into sections, for example: Reports, Discussion, and Action Items.
Allow enough time.
Include specific decisions you expect by the end.
3. Don’t let one person dominate the meeting.
We’ve all been there. The meeting has barely started, and one team member is bursting with ideas, questions, concerns and answers that everyone needs to hear now. Whether the “dominator” is speaking out of unbridled enthusiasm or unchecked ego, the end result is a stifling of other contributions. If you don’t feel comfortable asking the “dominator” to pipe down, try the following:
Don’t interrupt. Arguing a point will only further derail the meeting.
Listen neutrally. Any response, from a barely suppressed eye roll to a glance at the clock, will only further engage them.
Respond only to what is relevant and will move the discussion forward. If none were included, give a brief thanks and move on.
Exclude them from any roundtable. If it’s time to go around the table for comments, exclude “the dominator” by noting the team already heard from them.
Use the clock against them. If time limits are set for each agenda item, use the limit as a reason to move forward.
4. Set the tone.
The reason for the meeting will help set the tone. A brainstorming session is different from a decision meeting. To get your team in the right mind frame, choose the venue, agenda and even refreshments that match up well. The board room is not ideal for creative meetings, while pizza and punch on the rooftop garden isn’t ideal for big decisions.
Keep the meeting positive for the best end result. Refrain from criticizing individual team members, and be ready to rein in members who become angry or offensive. Keep in mind that your own behavior is a model for team members to follow.
5. End with a plan.
As your meeting winds to a close, be ready to summarize the key points, any decisions made, and next steps. Be clear as to which member owns what next steps. And let your team members know when they will next meet—either a specific date or general timeframe—and your basic expectations for that next meeting. Keep minutes to provide a record and as a starting point when creating your agenda for the next meeting.
A successful meeting reduces expenses and wasted time while also energizing team members. Manage your meetings for external and internal results. A meeting may contain negative information but the meeting itself does not have to mirror that in tone and results.
In nearly two decades of helping our clients lead project meetings at Boost Midwest, we’ve learned first-hand that leading an energized team and reducing wasted time being “busy” helps your company create a productive and forward moving environment for the months ahead.