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In the work world, you’ll rarely see more eye-rolling as you do when you announce a meeting has been scheduled.

Meetings feel like a necessary evil.  Even if we believe communicating as a team is important, it feels like meetings steal time from individual productivity.

The gatherings have developed a bad rap because they can be long, unfocused, boring, and often don’t result in any conclusion. What if you could turn your meetings into productive, high quality, co-creating time that people look forward to?

Why Are We Here?

With phones, emails, and instant messaging options aplenty, when information needs to be shared, there are no barriers to making that happen. Because of this, meetings should be restricted for group discussions and decisions, not for simply transferring information.

The value in team meetings comes from having access to diverse perspectives simultaneously.   Encouraging everyone to share their thoughts will ensure you tap into this deep pool of opinions.

The meeting leader must build skill at juggling two activities: participating in the conversation and observing the contribution levels of each person in the group.  If someone has spoken little or not at all, gently asking, “What’s your perspective?”, will draw them out.

Keeping everyone engaged not only adds to the quality of the discussion, but it also prevents people from getting bored or drifting off to sleep.  Although watching a co-worker’s head bob can be surprisingly entertaining, I’d rather hear their opinion!

The antidote to boring meetings is to ensure all participants are active rather than passive.

Socializing Has ValueTeam members socializing at a business meeting

Although most people are in a rush to get a meeting started and finished so they can complete their “real work”, it is also important to allow for personal connections.

Humans are social creatures.  We seek and thrive on connections and interactions with each other.  Meetings are inherently social events.  Allow space for some unstructured time for chatter.

One way to do this is to make sure you can get in the meeting room 10 minutes before the meeting start time and that the group can linger in the room for 10 minutes after the meeting time.  As the meeting leader, arrive early and stay after to set the tone.

By doing so, you’ll build a cultural norm of easing in and out of meetings with time for people to connect.  It will also help ensure meetings can start and end on time.

What’s in It for Me?

As the leader of the team, you may typically be the one to call a meeting.  In order to get maximum engagement out of the participants, however, you must be able to articulate what they get out of being at the meeting.

Making meetings interactive and building in social time will go a long way towards people feeling that they’re benefiting from the experience.  But take it another step and explicitly state in the invitation and at the start of the meeting what they have to gain.

For example, this may be an opportunity to influence the direction of a project.  It may be the chance to gather ideas on how to improve a process they are responsible for.  Or maybe they will be able to problem solve customer issues as a team, which will make their daily job easier.

As you prepare for the meeting, think about how the meeting topics are of value to each person that is invited so you’ll be able to clearly articulate it.

Focus Ensures Results

For a meeting to be productive, it must be focused.  In order for it to be focused, it needs to be organized.

Organized doesn’t mean inflexible.  You can structure a meeting and still allow for modifications based on the group’s energy and participation level around particular topics.

Here are a few tips that I’ve found essential to creating a focused meeting.

  • Prepare a shared agenda. Identify discussion items, the desired outcome such as decision, discussion, brainstorm, etc., and the estimated times for each.  Estimating time helps you be reasonable about how much can actually get done in one group sitting.  You want to leave some breathing room to allow for flexibility in the agenda as well as an unhurried pace which in which ideas can flourish.
  • Agree on a method for decision making. It’s important for everyone in the group to understand their role in the discussion and any resulting decisions.  Is the meeting intended to generate lots of ideas and then one person or a subset of the group will take it from there?  If the group is to make a decision, does everyone need to agree with the decision or does majority rule? Getting this clear on the front end will reduce confusion and frustration during the meeting.
  • Create a method for capturing tabled items. Inevitably things will come up that have the potential to distract the group from its goals for the meeting. The group leader must be able to quickly identify the items that are not pertinent or that need further discussion.  Those ideas can be captured on a flip chart and addressed at another time.
  • Recap the result of each agenda item. Before jumping to the next item, clearly end the current one.  Summarize the result of the discussion and ask the group to confirm you’ve got it right before moving on.  This dramatically improves the satisfaction of participants because it is clear what is being accomplished.
  • Start on time; end on time. Doing so demonstrates respect for each person’s time. Everyone has other responsibilities and deadlines. Don’t waste their time waiting for the meeting to start and let them get back to their work in the timeframe agreed to.  If you must, call another meeting to continue the conversation.

Meetings Enable Success

Meetings are a useful organizational tool when well-thought-out and effectively managed.  They can create higher quality ideas and decisions.  They build understanding and as a result, more effective teams.

Which of these ideas will you try at your next meeting?

Please share in the comment section below. I look forward to hearing from you!

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People Matters provides support to business owners and leaders in all areas of human resources management including but not limited to the topics woven through this article: supervising people, building strong teams, and developing successful cultures.

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