Ross Brindle

We’ve all been in bad meetings before—chances are, you’ve been in one just this week. Studies have shown that employees spend more than one-third of their time in meetings and that as much as half of that time is considered unproductive.

Does this look familiar?

  • Your meeting has no clear purpose or end point
  • The wrong people are in the meeting
  • There is no meeting agenda
  • The discussion wanders, rather than staying focused on the task at hand
  • Two or three people dominate the meeting
  • Everyone wants to talk; nobody wants to listen
  • The result of the meeting is…another meeting!
  • The result of the meeting is…nothing! There is no follow through.

Meetings like this waste time. A lot of time. And time is money.

As a collaboration consultancy, we at Nexight know that every meeting benefits from effective facilitation, from five-minute, one-on-one informal discussions to five-day, 250-person workshops. Based on our experience facilitating 250 meetings on six continents, we’ve found that the basic ingredients you need to manage for successful meetings are the same: purpose, people, and process.

Purpose

  • Understand the type of meeting you want to have—Is this a decision-making meeting, or a brainstorming meeting? Are you trying to kick off a new initiative or rescue a failing project? Defining the type of meeting you need is the first step. If you can’t answer this question, perhaps a meeting is not needed.
  • Define the end point and work backwards—Conduct a quick mental exercise: The meeting is over and it was awesome. What happened? Understand the ideal outcome and reverse engineer the process you need to create it. Also, ask yourself if you could get this end point more efficiently without a meeting. If so, skip the meeting and get moving.

People

  • Get the right people to the meeting—The most important part of every meeting is the people participating. Based on the type of meeting and end point you envision, you should be able to define who should be at your meeting. Do you want to walk out of the meeting with a decision? Then you need to invite people with the authority to make the call. Are you brainstorming for new ideas? Then be sure to engage people with diverse perspectives to avoid group think.
  • Find the right place to meet—The right setting can make or break a meeting. A meeting in a dark, oversized auditorium has a very different feel than a meeting in a sunny, functional meeting room. You can’t always control room size, temperature, and lighting once you are in the meeting. But with proper planning you can often control where you have the meeting in the first place.
  • Call on the quiet ones—Every group has people who love to talk and people who are naturally quiet. Before the meeting, spend a minute thinking about who is likely to be silent and plan ways to engage them, such as a direct question that is appropriate for their unique expertise. Then, once the meeting starts, try to engage these people without putting them on the spot. Often the quiet ones have been listening carefully and have interesting observations to share with the group.

Process

  • Create a timed agenda—Every meeting benefits from having a timed agenda. By thinking through the topics to discuss and how much time you want to spend on each topic, you can ensure your ambition fits the available time. I can’t stress this enough—a five-minute meeting benefits from spending 30 seconds creating a timed agenda.
  • Don’t go over time—Firm end times provide a powerful incentive to keep meetings moving. If you do have to go past the scheduled end time, first check with all participants to see if extending can work. And if you do extend, agree on a new end time and stick to it. But, better yet, create a culture of starting and ending meetings on time.
  • Take notes—This is obvious but often overlooked. So many meetings stimulate useful discussion that creates no value because it is not captured and acted upon. Don’t fill a room with hot air; fill it with notes on a whiteboard that you can use to take action after the meeting.
  • Don’t lose sight of the meeting objectives—Consider posting the meeting objectives and expected outcomes on the wall or at the top of your agenda. When discussion wanders, refer back and ask “Is our discussion helping us to get to our objectives for this meeting?”
  • Follow up after the meeting—People like feeling heard. Follow up with meeting participants to thank them for their time, recap action items, and commit to a timeline for next steps.

By applying the three P’s—purpose, people, and process—you can get back some of that most precious of resources: your time.

If you would like to talk more about how effective facilitation can help your team become more productive, give me a call. We offer workshop design and meeting facilitation services as well as customized facilitation training that can give you and your team tools needed to make sure every meeting you conduct delivers results. Who knows, you may even end up enjoying meetings after all.