The essential elements of Productive Meetings
“Meetings, Bloody Meetings”. That was the title of one of the best selling corporate videos of all time. It was produced in the early 1980s by Video Arts, the company started by John Cleese. Its continued popularity is a strong indicator of a lack of productive meetings, even now in 2020!
We are living in strange times folks. But even today it seems to me that meetings are a necessary evil in the working lives of many people. Now, there is no doubt that if they are managed well, meetings can actually help those attending, their teams, and their organisations to do many good things.
Unfortunately, however, meetings are not always a good use of peoples’ time and effort. It seems that in most organisations meetings – events where it is said minutes are taken and hours wasted – are nothing but a chore and a continual source of frustration for managers and attendees alike, consuming huge amounts of time with little or no positive result.
Interestingly, back in 2005, a Microsoft survey claimed that the average worker spent 5.6 hours a week in meetings and that 69% of workers found meetings to be unproductive. Put simply, in too many cases meetings take too long to accomplish too little. Productive meetings have unfortunately become a rare event in most organisations.
Ineffective Meetings, and How to Recognise Them
There are different styles of meeting that I would point to as being ineffective. The first of them is what you might call the competitive style. In this type of meeting you can expect to hear delegates say things like:
The second style of meeting I have witnessed over the years could be called the extreme procedures style. In this type of meeting you might hear:
The third style of ineffective meeting could be called the Committee meeting. I remember my time in the 6th form at school trying to get an agreement about which coffee machine to get for the 6th form lounge. Needless to say, we never did get one! So, at this type of meeting you might hear:
I’m sure that you get the idea. So, a while ago, in a bid to make meetings more productive, I wrote an eBook called The 9 P’s of Productive Meetings. I thought I’d make this article a précis of these 9 P’s; which I believe are as appropriate today as they were when I wrote the book. The9 P’s are:
Make sure that your meeting has a clear purpose which should be in the form of an agenda. If you don’t have a clear purpose, don’t have the meeting – simples! Also, make it an active reason. I would not recommend things like ‘To discuss……’ because that will be what happens; people will talk a lot!
Make sure that the important things get dealt with first. That way if something does not get covered in the time available, it will be something less important that misses out.
Make sure the right people are at the meeting and the wrong people aren’t. People who should be there include decision-makers and those whose input to the process is important. The wrong people are the meeting wreckers (you know who you are!) and those who just need an excuse to get away from real work for a quick catch up on their sleep; although the latter is much harder to do on Zoom or Teams!
Make sure that all attendees are prepared and bring along the necessary stuff and information they need to take an active part in the meeting. I hate it when someone turns up without having done their preparation and they keep people waiting while they mess around getting their act together.
Hard one this one, but you must start on time. Time management is an incredibly important element of a productive meeting. If you wait for latecomers you are essentially rewarding them and punishing the people who have made the effort to be there on time. I used to like the actress Jane Asher until I read an article by her in which she said that she always turned up late for meetings. In this way, she said, she never had to wait for anyone else!!!! By the way, punctuality should also apply to finish times as far as humanly possible.
This means being clear about how the meeting is going to be structured and led. I have always recommended the use of ground rules for meetings. These could include identifying acceptable and unacceptable behaviours. It will then be up to the meeting leader or chair to manage relationships, direct, keep control, and to ensure a balance of inclusion, discussion, presentation, and agreements.
The meeting leader or chair should make sure that everyone has their say; especially the quiet ones who don’t always compete for airtime against the more vociferous people. The quiet ones can often have that great idea that will take the meeting forward but they hold their ideas and opinions back.
Attendees should listen generously when others are talking. By this, I mean to listen with an intent to truly understand what has been said. There should be no side meetings or people texting or looking at their emails. It is the role of the leader to facilitate a meetings culture that ensures people listen to others.
Finally, once the meeting has ended people should be clear about who has committed to actions and be prepared to be held accountable. Please note that people who are not at the meeting should really be tasked with action until the context and specifics have been explained to them.
So, if you would like to turn your ineffective daily calls into fully-fledged productive meetings, think about how you can integrate these nine elements into them.
If you would like a copy of the eBook, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll happily send it to you totally free of charge!