Do you recognize the following in your organization:
- Meetings run over time
- People are unprepared (thus waste time retrieving information or setting up)
- People are distracted by other work (checking emails, replying to texts, answering calls)
- No clear actions are decided during the meeting
- Decisions from previous meetings are not executed
- People grumbling about having to come to a meeting
- No one brings input except for the person calling the meeting
- More meetings scheduled to make up for all of the above
And yet meetings are a crucial organization tool, no one can fathom working in an organization without at least some form of live collaborative effort.
Meetings are not ineffective in themselves: like any tool, if used efficiently it gives effective results. Ineffective meetings however, zap morale, and is extremely costly if we calculate the amount of time and personnel that participate in them on a daily basis.
Most people have never been formally trained in planning and holding a meeting.
In this blog series, I will lay out the basics of what you need to run efficient meetings. Let’s start with the meeting agenda.
The Meeting Agenda
Don’t have a meeting without one. This is the number one cause of wasted time in meetings. If you are requesting someone’s time, taking them away from other important work, you should make the time to create a clear agenda.
Here are the five items you need to create an effective Meeting Agenda:
A word or brief sentence describing the subject of discussion.
Next to each topic you should include the following:
As the one calling for the meeting, you will lead it, however many meeting items are topics that your colleagues have brought to you. Ask the person who brought you the issue to explain it to the team (it brings buy-in, trust and reduces the chance of you misinterpreting their issue).
Estimate how much time each topic should take. Inform and check with each speaker to make sure that it is significant, and they are able to cover the necessary issue within that time. This then gives you an accurate estimation of the time the meeting will take.
Keep an eye on the clock during the meeting. When the time is up for each agenda item, check that the purpose for this topic was achieved, and then move on to the next topic.
Keeping to the agenda, means keeping within the timeframe. On occasion the discussion can go off topic, go over time, or the outcome hasn’t been reached. If this is the case, immediately set up a time for another meeting specifically for that topic. Then move on to the next topic on your agenda.
Your topic may require some documents, either for people to prepare or to work on during the meeting. Make sure that the recipients get everything they need in the meeting invite.
In the past this meant attaching documents to an email. These days you want a link to the document in a shared environment (like SharePoint, an MS Teams channel, OneDrive, etc). This reduces the chance of people working with different document versions if changes are made before the meeting and makes it accessible during the meeting for real collaboration.
This is the key outcome you are seeking for each topic on the agenda.
For each agenda topic add one of these 3 words: Decision, Information, Discussion.
Every topic should have a reason for being in the agenda, and there are only three main reasons to meet as a group: to decide, inform or discuss.
By adding one of these three words to your agenda topic, you are asserting the required outcome before the meeting has begun. People will come prepared, and you’ll find that you get through the topics faster with one of the D.I.D. as a result.
Decision: If you find that everybody needs to be involved in this decision, then state this as the purpose.
Information: A meeting is only necessary for sharing information when you foresee several questions in need of clarification.
Discussion: Is it a problem to solve? Is it to gather knowledge? Is it to brainstorm? For this purpose, the way you structure the topic sentence is very important to keep the focus of the meeting.
By the end of any topic ask yourself whether the purpose was fulfilled: