Pro HR

The beauty of a well-run meeting

Well-run meetings are an amazing thing but when poorly executed, they can be extremely frustrating. Meetings are a key touchpoint for our teams, and they provide an overt and visual display of our leadership. However, few people feel they are time well spent.

Meetings are often poorly planned and ineffective and get in the way of work done. Research suggests that 50 percent of meetings are unnecessary, so let’s look at how to get the most out of them.

The value of the meeting

Meetings are indispensable to both organisational and team success. Research shows organisations that hold meetings outperform those that don’t, and leadership teams that hold them in times of challenges or change notably outperform those that don’t. Well-run meetings increase collaboration and psychological safety. They are also correlated with general work satisfaction (likewise poor ones with dissatisfaction).

This isn’t about banning them – it’s about doing them better.

Is a meeting needed?

The first step is to decide if a meeting is needed. It is often an automatic reflex to accept a meeting invite without first checking its relevance to us. Reportedly, the worst meetings are those that purely exist to disseminate information. Rather, an email, shared documents or webinar/video should be used for status updates. Meetings should be about resolution, brainstorming, decision-making and approvals or creating ideas. Purpose Each meeting needs a purpose and outcome statement. Part of the role of leading is to let participants know why they are there – Why are you having the meeting and what do you want to achieve before attendees leave?

The purpose should refer to a result, for example, “Business Review” as a title doesn’t focus on outcomes. Add a verb/action word to the purpose – “make a decision…” or “develop a plan of action…” or “decide top three actions for …”.

Are the right people in the room?

It is suggested that 10-15% of meeting participants are not usually necessary. When considering the purpose and desired outcome, ask yourself, who needs to attend to deliver on this? You’ll save time and improve meeting performance if you only include people who need to attend. From there, a balanced contribution from all participants tends to correlate with better performance – if a topic only relates to two people, take it out of the meeting.

Is the timeframe right?

Parkinson’s Law states that work expands to the time allotted for.

If you schedule an hour, your meeting will comfortably swell out to the hour. Shortening meetings will often allow for more focused and productive meetings. This is why we have seen the rise of the 10-minute huddle, the 18-minute team meeting and 50-minute meeting (instead of the standard one hour).

Planning is key

All eyes are on you as the meeting lead and the team will clearly see if you are not prepared (including use of technology). Be purposeful, thinking beforehand about what you want to accomplish with your agenda and being careful of covering too many things. Prior assignment of certain tasks such as note-taking, chairing, sorting visuals etc is helpful. Having documents ready (not preparing them on the day!) and sending out any preparatory information helps keep things moving. Preparing questions for team engagement and active input is also useful.

The meeting

Referring to your purpose is a powerful way to calibrate the first 40 seconds: “The purpose of today’s meeting is to…”. From there, the fundamental focus is to drive discussion that leads to an action or decision. You may opt to start with a connecting chit-chat, especially if you have decided that connection is a purpose. Celebrating wins is also useful to set the tone of the meeting – it’s easy to go to the problem and miss an opportunity to allow some positive energy in the room. Thereafter you can delve into your purpose and agenda. Outcomes and ownership should be a priority, summarising all agreed-upon actions in the final 10 minutes and ensuring these are recorded. Michael Hyatt of No-Fail Meetings promotes a meeting format of AEIO – Achievement, Expectations, Issues, Outcomes, which can be useful to follow. Finally, start and end on time.

Engaging participants

The leader is responsible for creating active engagement. Tricks can include keeping meetings small (four to six participants), using open-ended questions, co-creating using flipcharts and whiteboards, engaging different senses using colour, variety and movement (sitting still moves us to a passive state), and thinking about room layout: Make the room match the process i.e. theatre vs round table. Hyatt suggests a useful strategy for leaders is to “hold your counsel” – which requires us to pause and stay quiet to get the group sharing before a leader weighs in. Distractions such as side conversations, phones and laptops should be managed from the outset by setting clear expectations. Lastly, stay on topic. As a final thought, it is good to periodically check in with your team as to how meetings are going and what would make them better. Getting your meetings right can be a work in progress, but it’s worth the time and effort.

For more advice like this, contact your local Baker Tilly Staples Rodway HR leadership specialist.