Five Essential Steps to Better Business Meetings
If meetings are so unproductive, do we really need them? There is a large amount of evidence and advice in management books about why we meet, which can be summarised as: to share knowledge, to make important decisions, to come up with ideas, to deal with personal matters and to socialise.
These are all crucial activities for a group of people. So, the short answer is yes, we need meetings, we just need to get better at them. We need to prepare for them more thoughtfully. There are five deceptively simple steps to take when setting up a meeting which will lead to a much better outcome:
1. Share Information in Advance
Always share an agenda. When Sharp asked people for the reasons for bad meetings, a third said it was because no information was shared beforehand. How do people know if they should be in the meeting if they don’t know what it’s about? Without an agenda people can find themselves in a meeting for an hour thinking ‘why am I here, I don’t need to be here.’ That’s when they disengage.
2. Limit the Invitations
Many meetings become unproductive because there are too many people invited, or the right people aren’t invited. This becomes even more problematic when it’s a virtual meeting and it’s harder to follow who has joined and who is speaking. Limit the attendees to those who are essential to move a project forward.
Sometimes people are invited to meetings out of courtesy, not necessity. If you are tempted to invite someone purely because of their seniority, instead ask if they would prefer to see the minutes afterwards to review. Then it’s up to them. Some people feel they can’t decline a meeting invitation, even when they suspect the meeting will be a waste of their time. Be a responsible meeting attendee as well as a responsible organiser. If you’re not sure you need to be there, ask for the agenda.
3. Avoid Back-to-Back Meetings
Consider whether you need to start on the hour, and if people will have used the room before you. In organisations that have back to back meetings in the same room, the first ten minutes of each meeting will always be wasted because they are spent in a changeover. Avoid this by starting at 15 minutes past the hour.
Often, if you are using Audio Visual or IT equipment, there can be a delay in set up. If you know that you might have delays with IT, make the first 10 minutes of the meeting networking time for the participants while you get organised.
4. Go Shorter
There is a lot of research - for example from Tony Schwartz and the Energy Project – that we can only maintain peak performance for 90 minutes. In Sharp’s survey, most people said they couldn’t concentrate for more than 45 minutes. If you need to have a longer meeting organise a variety of activities and meeting leaders and build in breaks for people to digest what has been said. No-one wants to be in one of those two-hour meetings where by the end of it we’ve forgotten what was said at the start.
5. Use Different Areas
In Sharp’s survey two thirds of people said they do not have different types of meeting room for different types of meeting. Meetings that have different purposes have different requirements and will benefit from a different layout. For example, a creative meeting requires a space with more colour and stimulation. We know from biophilic research that daylight, plants and natural materials can help the creative process. Personal meetings require a more domestic-type environment which sets a friendlier tone. This is obviously inappropriate for a board meeting, which will require a more formal arrangement of furniture.
Think about the subconscious messages that people receive from a space. For a creative meeting, do you really want people to sit down at a table and chairs? If you want a short meeting, a standing area makes it clear to everyone that this is a quick active meeting. People in an informal space are more likely to make a quick decision and move on.
Marketing & Communications Specialist CEE