Meeting planning and an effective meeting are key to great communications in teams and yet the below simple and powerful strategies are often overlooked.
If you are here pressed for time and just looking for a quick fix to move your meetings from slow, boring and conflict struck happenings to efficient, powerful and meaningful gatherings, you can jump straight to end list at the end of this article where you have the quick version. To get more of the meat, more of the essence and lost of help to boost you there, take a chunk of your time and keeping reading below, it will be worth it.
Have you been there? Have you felt it? How the meeting is over and you are not quite sure what you accomplished?
Or even before the meeting was over, right in the midst of action, or lack of it, you felt irritated because you were stuck or bored because you wandered aimlessly from one topic to another without any sense of direction.
Maybe you were surprised or even upset with that the meeting never get to be about that one thing that you thought it was going to be about. Everybody else kept talking about other things that you could not have cared less about.
Keep reading below and I will share some of the secrets that make meetings efficient, energized and excellent. People often ask me for advise on this topic since they have experienced how these strategies I will give you below work their magic when applied properly.
There are some timeless sure-fire strategies that will greatly improve your meetings to levels you did not think was possible, yet where few know them. That is they might have heard them here and there, but they do not apply them at their own gatherings and make them everyday practice.
So, if you are ready to take the next step in making your meetings a place of growth, contribution and high production, read on and apply. If you are not ready, if you are one of those that read management and leadership books just to forget about them as soon as you have finished them or even before you have finished them, if you are not ready to change that, please stop here and go find something else to do because you will just be wasting your time here.
And time is a major reason for making your meetings more efficient, it is an ever more precious jewel, and people including yourself should not waste their time at badly planned, badly initiated and even worsely executed meetings.
Ten timeless, tested and proven strategies to take your meetings to a whole new level
It doesn’t matter if you are the person who seems to be in charge of leading the meeting, calling people together, booking the room or not. If you consider yourself just a participant at the meetings with no responsibility for the action, then that is the place to begin! Get into the action! If you are not contributing you are blocking. Blocking your meeting, your team, your corporation, from being all it could be. So get busy being part of doing and being by reading on and applying whatever your formal role in your meetings is.
“If I had six hour to chop down a tree, I would spend five hours sharpening my axe”
It is all in the preparation, or almost all of it, it is just plain simple the way it is. The first thing you should do to sharpen your meeting axe is to decide who is needed at the meeting. All to often people are called there just to be present. If they are not needed for input or it will add to the quality of your relationship by spending some time face to face, send them an email with the info instead or visit with them afterwards. A good meeting group size is between 2-12, if you go beyond that you are well on your way to have an information instead of a meeting, that is if you wish to be efficient. If your department is bigger than this, consider have one large information and several smaller meetings.
Next is to make sure that the purpose of the meeting is clearly communicated to each and every participant of the meeting. The almighty, all important and earth-shaking question is “why do we get together this fine Monday morning?”. Get that clearly answered in a way that makes sense and you are half way there. It is also an excellent opportunity to ask for input, as to what others feel should be on the agenda for the meeting. Maybe you have overlooked something important, maybe you can not fit it all in (which you should avoid anyway), but it might go into the next meeting or give you a feel for what others feel is important.
With the agenda in front of you, notice we are still sharpening the axe, clarify if an item is Information, Dialogue or Decision. Information means one person informs, the other LISTEN, you could allow a few questions to make sure the information is clearly communicated, but NO and I mean NO input, no discussion, no questioning! Dialogue means you take the time to discuss an item, it might be something that someone needs input on. If giving good input means that the others need to prepare before the meeting, make sure that is communicated well ahead of the meeting. A good rule of thumb is that the person bringing that item into the meeting should do the least talking. Decision means that you are going to decide on something, at the end of the allotted time you need to have reached a decision. Start any Decision item by quickly decide how you are going to decide. Voting? Compromise? Unanimous? Chairman or boss decides?
Then you jump into creating a time plan. If you feel your team is well-oiled, mature and open-minded group of people you could do this at the actual meeting, in all other cases it goes before the meeting, in the axe sharpening department. Take each item on the agenda and set a given time for it. A good idea is to allot a time space at the end called Spare Time. This could be five or ten minutes to which you can move items you do not quite finish during the meeting.
Arrange the meeting room for what we are talking about, that means meeting. Avoid distance by having large tables that separate you miles from each other. Plants on the table that obstruct a clear view. Make sure it is possible for everyone at the meeting to easily make eye contact with the others, that greatly enhances participation and communication.
Ok, we are almost ready to jump into the agenda, but the axe needs a little more sharpening right at the start of the meeting. Right at the start, assign a Time Keeper for the meeting. This person becomes the director of time, making sure that times are kept during the meeting. It does not mean that everybody else can forget everything about being responsible, rather that the Time Keeper is the director who holds the overview rather than getting lost in the excitement of discussion. This is a vital role and should be rotated at different meetings.
Now, here comes something vitally important, something human, something that can feel a bit silly to start with, but that has proven itself time and time over again to raise the well-being, the efficiency and the output of meetings to levels beyond belief. Curious? Do a Check-In at the start of the meeting. What is a Check-In? It means that each and every one at the meeting gets 1 (that is one, Mr or Mrs Time Keeper) minute to share how they are doing in life right now. And that is life overall, not just work. It can be good news, bad news or just same old, same old. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that you share. That everybody gets their uninterrupted space at the beginning, that each and every takes the time to see the others as human beings, not just as meeting participants. I can not enough stress the importance of getting this implemented for long-term prosperity, health and productivity. So many meetings have gone down the drain because people are seeking confirmation, seeking being seen, through clinging on to a rather unimportant meeting topic and making it into a personal matter other the surface. The Check-In is the last touch-up that turns your axe from a dull tool making people less than they can be into a high-powered, mega-efficient and super-sharp meeting utility.
Ready for some action? Ladies and gentlemen, start your engines. It is now time for the meeting items. What to do now the axe is sharpened? One thing, stick with the plan! Keep the times. I will say it again, keep the times, you have assigned. Discipline is what separates champions from the rest. If you do not finish an item on time, move it to Spare Time or to the next meeting. Do not go over time! Sticking with this discipline of time will itself over time make you more efficient. Practice makes perfect. It can be frustrating in the beginning, but stick with it. It is amazing what you can get done in five minutes with a group of people that are trained, focused and we-minded.
We-minded you say? Yes. During your meetings practice focusing on “we” instead of “I”. This means “how do we get the best result from this dialogue?”, not “how can I benefit the most from this?”. Let go of your personal agendas and surrender to the group. This does not mean that you become a doormat that says “Walk all over me”. It means that you keep and open mind and take the helicopter up one level to see the whole picture not just your own part.
Almost there! One more key to unlock the hidden powers of your meetings is the end. Set off some time at the end of the meeting, could be five or ten minutes depending on group size, to give each other positive encouragement. This means you open up for anybody to give any one else, or the whole group, a feedback steaming from a positive experience. You could also frame it as appreciation. For example: “ John, I really appreciated your focus at the meeting today. It made me feel energized and happy to be in the meeting” or “Melinda, thanks for stopping by my office to say hi yesterday. It made me happy and motivated”. Again, practice makes perfect, there might be awkward silences to start with while everybody is thinking, but again stick with it. Next to the Check-In at the beginning this is the tool to take your group to whole new levels in human interaction, meeting skills and efficiency.
That’s it. I have summarized the ten strategies below for your convenience.
The quick List
If you jumped right here and something below does not make sense, I suggest you take some time out of your busy life and read more about it above.
1. Clarify who is needed at the meeting
2. Communicate Purpose of meeting before the meeting, ask for input
3. Clarify if items are Information, Dialogue or Decision
4. Create a Time Plan for each item on the agenda
5. Arrange room for meeting, not distance
6. At the very start of the meeting assign a Time Keeper
7. Check-In at start of the meeting, everybody takes turns sharing where they are at in life
8. Keep times! If an item needs more time, move to Spare time at end or next meeting. Period.
9. Maintain a we-focus rather than I-focus through the meeting.
10. Finish of meeting with round of Positive Encouragement
I wish for you excellent, rewarding and productive meetings. It is my sincere hope that the above will be helpful for you. Remember that meetings are about PEOPLE coming together to get THINGS done, not the other way around.
The author Markus Eriksson, is an international developer of human potential, having worked with organizations, leaders and individuals in Asia, Europe and America for over 10 years. He is a much appreciated meeting facilitator, speaker and multimedia author. You can find him at http://www.advenire.com .