In our previous blog we answered the question why organizations put a lot of time and money into improving and optimising various company processes, except for the meeting process. Even though that’s where the decisions are made that determine the pace in which an organization develops itself. Ignoring the meeting thus is a missed opportunity. Today we will discuss the two key principles that will make your meeting shorter and more effective.
Stating the obvious
Much can be found about how to improve your meetings. In general these are short lists with an endless amount of tips. But what are the fundamentals of improving a meeting? Yes, of course the right people need to be present (and not too many!), and yes, of course you need to have an agenda and pre-read, and yes, of course everyone needs to be on time and pay attention. But these are all peripheral conditions, rules. True change you don’t accomplish by imposing a set of rules on yourself or your organization, however. That’s treating the symptoms, not the root cause of the issue. It’s more sensible to look at what you can improve fundamentally.
What it’s truly about is that you only discuss in a meeting the things that actually belong there. In addition, you want to create as much ownership as you can leading up to the meeting, by having participants share and discuss relevant insights and viewpoints in advance. Then you will find your meetings really start to take off. In doing so, it’s important to see the meeting as a process. That begins with the realization that a meeting starts when the invitation is sent out, rather than when everyone is sitting at the table. This means:
1. Only discuss in a meeting what truly belongs there
Avoid topics that don’t require a physical presence. E.g. sharing information, making basic or trivial decisions, or discussing all kinds of bureaucratic or practical topics.
2. Create ownership for participants in advance
For each agenda item define who the owner is. This doesn’t have to be the person with the final responsibility. More often than not, this is the person facilitating the process to come to a decision or result. Make sure that person shares relevant subject matter and gives participants the opportunity to give feedback and ask questions in advance. Oftentimes people sit down at the table together and have a long discussion, only to determine that the desired outcome of an agenda item can’t be achieved there and then. What happens then is that the item is postponed to the next meeting. By assigning ownership you prevent this waste of time. Either the goal is achieved, or it is determined in advance that the agenda topic is not ripe for a team discussion yet.
What’s the yield?
By applying these principles your meeting will become fundamentally better, because:
- Things that aren’t worth discussing will be taken care of outside of the meeting;
- The quality of the input of the participants is higher, because they’ve had the time to reflect in advance;
- There is more time to discuss complex topics and make important decisions.
If you want to structurally solve an inefficient meeting culture, it pays to view the meeting as a continual process. From this point of view, the meeting starts the moment the invitation is sent, rather than when all participants are seated at the table. This allows for faster decision-making and a more productive use of everyone’s time. In the following blogs we will, among other things, talk about how you can implement this company-wide, how you can improve meeting dynamics at the table, but also how improving the meeting process can make an important contribution to the company culture you desire.