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How to run effective meetings

Do you agree with the blanket statement that "meetings are bad, unproductive and a complete waste of time"?

I don't.

Well, if you're in a meeting that is indeed bad, unproductive and a complete waste of time, then yes, that meeting is bad. If you're not, it's not. Sounds like a bunch of useless tautologies, but it's really that simple.

sheep meetingIs this what your meetings usually look like?

The tricky part is...wait for it...making sure that a meeting is run properly.

Slow clap

Yeah, yeah, I know. Easier said than done right? True, but it's not that hard. If you can chair a meeting properly, then meetings become the ultimate tool for a team because they facilitate communication and knowledge spread. How else can you communicate and discuss complex ideas in a fast, clear and efficient manner? Don't start pointing to online collaboration tools; you need verbal communication:
  • Information is both shared and received faster this way
  • You can be more expressive and nuanced through the use of tone, gestures, body language and props (whiteboard, pen & paper, etc...)
  • It's the most practical method of holding an active discussion

So how can you run an effective meeting?
Note: most work-related conversations between two people are also considered meetings in this context.

Here's a handy set of rules I try to stick to. They originate from lessons learned through my own experiences which were heavily seeded by the various books and snippets I've read over the years and assimilated into my processes. The most influential of these is a book about decision making titled The Effective Executive, by Peter F. Drucker.

Caveat emptor: these rules illustrate an ideal. You aren't always in a position to dictate your meetings' structure, and when you are it's quite rare that you're able to run things exactly the way you want them. Nevertheless they are what you should be aiming for; at best you end up with an effective hybrid of sorts and at worst you learn something and gain experience. Over time they will become second nature.

Before the meeting
  • Decide its purpose, agenda, time, duration and venue. Communicate these clearly, and in advance, to meeting participants
  • Only essential people should attend. Here's a trick: don't ask yourself whether a person needs to be there (you'll end up answering "yes" most of the time). Instead ask yourself what costs more: this person's absence or their presence? If their absence invalidates (i.e. wastes) the meeting or will cost you an unreasonable or impractical amount of follow-up work afterwards, then they should attend.
  • Prepare for the meeting; do your homework.

The meeting itself
  • Run the meeting in an appropriate format (see list below)
  • Someone should keep minutes. Their format should be practical and relevant to the nature of the meeting. For example internal meetings between colleagues can have casual, short (but clear) notes. Important meetings between executives of different bodies should be more formally minuted and structured.
  • End the meeting the second its purpose has been fulfilled. Don't raise other matters for discussion.
  • Always sum up before adjourning; it only takes a minute. Summarise the main discussion points, any conclusions drawn and decisions that were taken. Any tasks assigned during the meeting should be re-stated including who's responsible for them and by what deadline.

After the meeting
  • Send an email to all attendees with a copy of the minutes which, if taken properly, should include all relevant details you went through in your end-of-meeting summary. If this isn't the case, replicate your summary within the email (and appoint someone else to minute the meeting next time).

Obligatory stock photo of a cool-looking meetingObligatory stock photo of a cool-looking meeting

Meeting formats

Purpose: to prepare or agree on a formal statement/announcement/text/document/statute etc...
  • someone should prepare a draft beforehand
  • after the meeting, that same person should also be responsible for finalising the document and distributing it to the participants

Purpose: to make an announcement
  • should be limited to the announcement (and to discussing it if necessary)

Purpose: one person is reporting something to participants
  • should be limited to that report and a discussion about it

Purpose: several persons are reporting something to participants
  • discussions on the reports should not be held
  • entertain questions for the purposes of clarification only
  • if the reports are lengthy, or there are a lot of them, these should be distributed to attendees well in advance and then a stricter and preset time limit should be imposed on each report

Purpose: to inform someone about something, or to bring them up to speed
  • that person should just listen and only ask questions if they need further clarification
  • no discussions

Do you agree with this list? Do you have any tips you want to suggest? Send a tweet to @caruanas or join the discussion in my GamesBiz group on Facebook.

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