Meeting (4)

Meetings are the lifeblood of business. Whether they are face-to-face, online or a combination of the two, interacting with our colleagues and customers in the format of a formal meeting is not going away. In fact, we are having more meetings than ever before. No longer constrained by having to be in the same place, or needing expensive video or audio conferencing facilities, tools like Skype, WebEx and GoToMeeting evidence the prominence of meetings in today’s business culture.

While apps like Slack have transformed the way teams interact, releasing people form inbox slavery, there is no equivalent for the meeting lifecycle itself. The gamut of tools for hosting meetings provides little or nothing in the way of meeting lifecycle management. They make it easier for us to have meetings, so we’re having more of them, but they’re not making them better, and that’s a big problem.

So, what can we do to improve the quality of our meetings? Here are 5 recommendations:

  1. Understand who you’re meeting. This might sound obvious, but understanding who you are meeting, what their roles and responsibilities are, what their history is will help you understand better what their objectives are, and even if they are the right people to be in the meeting in the first place. LinkedIn has helped massively here as just about every professional person has a public profile on LinkedIn and some judicious searching can produce a short resume on just about anybody.
  2. Have a clear and inclusive agenda. A clear agenda means everyone is clear not only on what you want to discuss, but what the objective of the meeting is. An inclusive agenda means canvasing input from all attendees as to what you will discuss and what the objectives should be. This can also help determine if the right (or wrong) people are invited, because attendee objectives should be aligned.
  3. Encourage note taking and sharing. There are two elements to this. The first is “active note taking”, which means nominating an individual to draw out key points from the discussion as it progresses and highlight these on a whiteboard, flipchart or electronic equivalent. This focuses people’s minds and provides a common reference point to support the discussion. The second element is note sharing. Encourage all participants to take and share their notes with the organizer or a nominated individual. Don’t rely upon one individual to minute the meeting as you’ll miss valuable insights from others This also provides an early opportunity to reconcile conflicting interpretations of what happened in a meeting.
  4. Implement a feedback and rating mechanism for your meetings. Don’t be afraid to share feedback, it should be visible to all. Choose some key metrics, such as ‘Did the meeting start and end on time?,’ ‘Were the right people invited?,’ ‘Were your objectives achieved?,’ ‘Was everybody given an opportunity to contribute?’
  5. Follow up on every meeting by distributing clear minutes, containing the agenda covered, the notes taken and the actions agreed. Try to keep meeting minutes centralized on a shared system that everybody has access to, then not only are they instantly and easily accessible to everybody, but there is also only one version of the “truth”.
Fundamentally, all of these recommendations come down to one thing; following a good process. A consistent meeting process will help everyone in attendance to know what to expect from each meeting and how best to contribute. But as with any new process, it is important to follow it consistently until it becomes a habit.

They say it takes 21 days to form a new habit. Unfortunately, we have years of bad meeting behaviour and conventions to undo. We need all the help we can get. Meeting lifecycle apps like Meetzoo are working to offer that help, by building tools that encourage good meeting practices and collaboration. It is our mission to make meetings better by encouraging best practice through technology.

But we also know that good meetings don’t come from technology alone. They require action and a commitment to implement. Can you commit to following these five recommendations for the next 21 days? I am confident that if you give them a try you will soon be having more productive, engaging and creative meetings every time.

By Paul Lewis-Borman, founder and CEO of Meetzoo