Make your meetings more effective

In many organisations we visit we see meetings where people arrive late, and unprepared for the topics to be discussed. Often, people openly check their emails on their phones or laptops during meetings, or even answer their mobile and leave the room for a while to take a call!

Even where gadgets are switched off, people are frequently not listening to each other. They talk over each other, interrupt or start side conversations while someone is speaking.

Sometimes meetings have no clear agenda, or only a simple list of topics to be discussed with no indication of the intended outcome. And all too often people leave with no idea of what exactly is to be done, and by whom. So, surprise, surprise, nothing happens, and all those good ideas come to nothing.

Why do we do it?

Practices like these damage relationships and hinder productivity. Meetings encapsulate all that is right and wrong with organisation culture. They betray the presence of unconscious attitudes and beliefs such as:

  • “I don’t see the point of this meeting”
  • “I’ve got my job to do – I’m not interested in his job”
  • “I’ve got far too much to do to be here”
  • “My attention is not needed for this bit / this bit is boring – I’ll tune back in when we are talking about something more interesting to me”
  • “I feel threatened by these meetings; I have to defend my self / function / profession / ego at all costs”

If you have meetings populated with people who don’t see the point of being there, or feel threatened, you’ll get an unhappy, inefficient meeting and poor quality results. Everything will take longer and there will be repetition and duplication of effort. More than that, actions are far less likely to be implemented on time or in full.

What’s the alternative?

How would it be instead if:

  • Every person in the meeting knows exactly why they are there and what their contribution is expected to be.
  • Everybody turns up in good time, fully prepared.
  • Everyone switches off their phone for the duration of the meeting.
  • You all listen fully and without interrupting to each person speaking.
  • You can tell the truth without fear of reprisals.
  • You can trust others to keep their word.
  • There is a clear agenda, with clear objectives for each item.
  • Actions with a deadline date are assigned to named individuals for every decision made.

Changing your culture

What happens in meeting rooms accurately reflects what happens in the organisation outside. So if you think the meetings you attend or lead are not very good, it’s a good indicator that the culture that happens outside the meetings also needs some work.

Many organisations start their ‘cultural revolution’ by working hard at transforming the quality and quantity of outcomes from their meetings. To have constructive meeting practices become ‘just the way we do things’ in your organisation, you need to do some conscious design work. Some of the most important work you ever do is done in meetings – so spend some time making sure that they are as effective and efficient as possible.

Here a few questions to get you thinking about your organisation’s meeting culture:

  • What practices do you consider to be your organisation’s meeting strengths and weaknesses?
  • How do your meetings mirror your company’s culture?
  • What one action would most transform the quality of your meetings?

Bring effectiveness back to your meetings

How does your organisation measure up?