Meeting the needs
I wrote two weeks ago that "long meetings are the biggest waste of both time and energy in modern business life". That comment seemed to strike a chord with people, so I'd like to follow up on this topic.
Saying that meetings can be a waste of time is hardly original or particularly profound. But as with project management, which I discussed here, although we know what is wrong, we often fail to fix the problems.
If you're seriously interested in improving your management/planning meetings, below are 13 simple rules to follow. Again, I'm not claiming originality. Nor am I claiming that I follow all these rules myself consistently. And different individuals and cultures will have different attitudes to some of these points. But in general, business meetings would be improved dramatically if these rules were followed.
- Have a clear agenda. People should know what will be discussed. Extra points can be added at the meeting, but if they are likely to be time-consuming, a separate meeting should be arranged.
- Always start on time, regardless of who hasn't arrived. To make a prompt start possible, everyone should be in the meeting room five minutes before the starting time.
- Even more importantly, always end on time. The biggest frustration for participants is not knowing when a meeting will end, particularly when they have other appointments and work pressures. In extreme situations, a maximum extension of five minutes is allowed.
- Don't have too many items on the agenda. You know it always takes longer to discuss things than planned. So prune the agenda beforehand.
- Items that affect only a few people should be discussed at length separately. Don't waste the time of people who don't need to know or discuss things.
- Don't allow long speeches. Participants need to be encouraged to
make their points succinctly. It can help to set a maximum time for any contribution, such as a minute. Practise keeping your contributions to that length.
- Don't allow repetition. If a participant repeats a comment, the chair should politely say, "Yes, you've said that already."
- Don't allow deviation. If a participant wanders off topic, the chair should bring the discussion back on course asap. Brainstorming meetings can afford lateral thinking. Management meetings don't normally need it.
- Ensure diversity. The chairperson should make sure that all participants have an opportunity to contribute.
- Ensure respect. There is nothing more demotivating than having your ideas slapped down brutally in a meeting. The chairperson is responsible for ensuring that the tone is respectful at all times. This includes not interrupting people (unless that is culturally acceptable).
- Change chairs if necessary. No, I'm not talking about playing musical chairs. Instead, if the chairperson is going to be a major contributor to a discussion, someone else should take over the chairing of that item.
- Always have clear and concise minutes. These should be produced promptly after the meeting and corrected if necessary. A record of what was discussed or decided is essential. Otherwise, confusion and misunderstandings are guaranteed.
- Explain your rules to participants beforehand so everyone is clear about them.
Feel free to add your ideas to this list. But make a start by implementing as many of the above as possible.
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