Good Meetings Are Simple. Really.

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We've all been there.

We have all been in terrible meetings or run terrible meetings.   I know I have.  I catch myself even now doing a poor job at planning and managing a discussion well.

It's so simple to do it well.  Why don't we do it more often?  Why do I forget the basics sometimes?

Here's a reminder for me, myself, I, and you too.

What's the Goal?

Have a clear goal going into the discussion.  Is it a decision or set of decisions you want to come out with?  Is it to communicate status?  

Make sure the goal is clear to everyone, and that the goal is stated in such a way that you know when you've acheived it.

This is why an agenda is so important, even if it's just a few lines of text in the calendar item or in an email.  It doesn't have to be formal, but it does have to clearly communicate the goal(s) clearly.

Respect People's Time

Schedule meetings to be 15 or 30 minutes by default.  Most scheduling software automatically defaults to an hour.  Change the defaults.

Limiting yourself to shorter meetings will keep them more focused and productive.  I would rather have 2 30-minute meetings than a single 1-hour meetings if it makes sense.  Sometimes that can be a good strategy, especially when it's a decision-making discussion.  Expect actions and follow-up activity to come out of the first discussion, and get finalized in the second.

Shorter meetings also makes it easier for you to keep the group on track.  If someone gets off topic, you can steer them back by interjecting "we only have a few minutes left for this discussion, so let's table that topic for now and deal with it individually or in a new meeting."

If you are scheduled for 30 minutes and you acheive the goal in 10 minutes, declare victory and get the heck out of there.  Get everyone back to moving your project forward.

Additionally, start the meeting on time.  Waiting around for 5 minutes for other people to arrive is pretty painful for everyone.  In some cases you have to wait...if so, try to get some cheerful banter going at least...otherwise it's just boring silence.

Follow Up

If there are actions from the meeting, follow up on them.  Make sure other people are as well.  

Sending out meeting minutes is a great way to 1) ensure people know their responsibilities, 2) you remember who you are expecting updates from, and 3) help ensure understanding by re-stating the decisions in your own summary.

What ineffective behaviors do you catch yourself or others doing that give you a headache?

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Posted on: March 19, 2011 05:33 PM | Permalink

Comments (13)

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The project sponsor and stakeholders often turned up late for meetings

Ah yes. Many ways to handle that one, none of them are easy.

Personally, I would have a conversation with them and ask a question that will not put them on the defensive, while still showing that it's important that they attend on time. For instance, "I noticed you came in a bit late for the meeting today. I know you are coming from other important meetings, some of which might be running over. How about if I schedule my meetings to start at 5 minutes past the hour, to allow for some additional time getting from the last meeting?"

Or something similar.

It's a true phenomenon, and now that I'm writing about this, I'm thinking about scheduling a few of my own meetings for 5 minutes after the hour....I have done this before, but not lately.

Thanks for the thought-provoking comment!

Josh Nankivel,

Good article, Josh. I think following up is really important. Too often people don't follow up on actions in a timely manner, which makes one of the purposes of having meetings - getting things done - redundant.

Because we have so many meeting in different building on a large campus and I prefer to see people in person at least weekly, I scedule my meetings at 15 after the hour and end at 15 to the hour (30 minute meeting whenever possible). But some people are always late no matter what you do.

Thanks for the great additions Elizabeth and Linda!

Yeah, that lateness thing is so tricky...I think people will always take advantage if you let them. I used to work in a situation where team leaders were either late or skipped the meeting all together. Sometimes it was my own boss. So frustrating! And people noticed, and felt like their opinions didn''t matter because others were skipping the meeting.

I think if you let it start 5 mins late then people will come 10 mins late. Well, THOSE people, the ones who habitually come late.Would be funny if the meeting minutes who attended, and who came late...


"Late Attendees:.....

A coworker and I got into a fun contest recently to see who could get to the meeting room first since we were in a lot of the same meetings. It was a great competition, and forced me to get in there 3-4 mins early, open up the conference line and get my notes ready so that we''re all set by the time the client calls in. I was inspired after reading a blog post from someone who says he plans to get to all his meetings 5 minutes beforehand. Now only if those latecomers can learn from him... (sigh)

One of the issues at our company is that that there are not enough conference rooms. Meetings rarely start on time because the previous meeting doesn't end on time. This means that people must stand in the hall for a meeting to end before they can enter. Even if we interrupt the meeting telling them their time is up, they still take a couple of minutes to complete their meeting.

Dina and Linda,

As I said in a previous comment, I haven't been doing the thing lately where I schedule a meeting 5 minutes after the hour.

Well, I did it with a pre-ship review meeting last week.

It was awesome! People mentioned it and really liked it....we spent the first 5 minutes talking about what a great idea it was! When 9:05 rolled around, I started the meeting by saying "It's 9:05 so let's get started".

Great experience, and an idea I plan to keep using.

Josh Nankivel

I forgot to mention...everyone was there on time. I could have started at 9:03 actually...

Hi Josh,

A headache inducer for me is not having an agenda before the meeting. However, my number one irritation is using the first official 5-10 minutes of the meeting to schmooze. I'm noticing this phenomena even in my virtual meetings! I'm going to try your idea of scheduling meetings at 5 minutes after the hour.

Linda, my company also has issues with lack of space. We work around them by holding meetings virtually using Internet-based conference rooms. It's convenient and it supports our sustainability efforts.

Thanks for the comment Senita!

I actually enjoy a few minutes of casual conversation before getting started. It seems to lighten the mood and make for a smoother meeting, in my opinion.

Getting to know people's moods at the begining of a meeting can make your meeting more productive. But if this is done at the beginning of every meeting, every day it can be very expensive. For example if you have 10 people in a meeting who spend 5 - 10 minutes at the beginning of an average of 5 meetings per day at an average salary of $ per hour. It can be very expensive.

I absolutely see your point Linda. At the same time, I think it's good to acknowledge that human beings need interaction, and to the extent it serves other purposes and isn't too onerous, at least some of this is not a bad thing.


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