7 Secrets for Good Meetings

by Sharlyn Lauby on September 9, 2010

One of the biggest changes I experienced when I became a consultant involved meetings.  Working in corporate, I attended a lot of meetings – many of them were routine like staff meetings or safety meetings, etc.

As a consultant, the number of meetings I attend has diminished significantly.  And maybe it’s just me but, the meetings I do go to for clients are much more efficient.  I wonder if having someone from outside the organization impacts meeting efficiency.  Hmmm, probably reading way too much into that one.

The real key to a successful meeting is planning.  If you really take the time to plan and prepare, it has a definite impact on the outcome of the meeting.  Here are my 7 planning tips that help me conduct a good meeting:

Only have meetings when necessary.  I know this sounds like a no brainer.  But, there are lots of people who call meetings for everything.  Don’t call a meeting when a phone call will do.  Or say you need to have a meeting to avoid dealing with an issue.  If you want productive meetings, only have them when necessary.

Invite the right people.  Yes, this sometimes means inviting those devil’s advocates and naysayers.  Make sure the people who need to be in the room are there.  And don’t add to the confusion by inviting people who don’t need to be there.  Meetings aren’t popularity contests.

Pick the proper date/time/location.  When I worked in hotels, no one scheduled meetings at 3:00 p.m.  Why?  That’s the typical check-in time.  The lesson?  Understand the right time to have meetings.

Also, choose the right venue.  Think Jerry Maguire folks.  Some conversations are fine at restaurants but some aren’t.  I once sat on a board that wanted to hold meetings at a restaurant.  The meetings were worthless from a ‘get things done’ standpoint because everyone was focused on eating and chatting.  Who wants to second a motion when they have a mouthful of disco fries?!

Create an agenda.  Tell people why you want to have a meeting.  It gives participants time to prepare, do research, and think about their viewpoint on the issues being discussed.  The only way you can get something accomplished is by having people come prepared. Oh, and please be sure to actually stick to the agenda.

If you expect others to talk or present, tell them.  In advance.  When you put out that agenda, let the participants know if you expect something from them.  If you want a person to bring the latest data, let them know.  If you want people to come prepared to make a decision, tell them.  I recall a meeting where a board president asked me to present a proposal during a meeting – it completely threw me off guard because I had no forewarning whatsoever.

Keep minutes.  Creating a record of what action was taken and what needs to be done is important.  I’m a big fan of using SMART goals in creating minutes.  It not only provides a record of what will be done but who is responsible for it and when it will be completed.  Then, the SMART plan becomes a working document.

Follow up after the meeting.  Minutes should be sent in a timely fashion so people can start working on action items.  Let participants know you’re available if they need help, resources or just a sounding board.

Sometimes the phrase “let’s meet about this” sounds so casual that it might send the message that meetings are easy.  Truth be told, meetings are hard work.  At least when they’re done right.

Image courtesy of Jackhsiao

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Matthew Harrington September 9, 2010 at 9:18 am

Great list Bartender,

At our company we teach a lot on meeting efficiencies. If we calculate the cost of people sitting in a meeting, it truly is huge. Time is money. For example 8 managers in a meeting at a labor cost (salary plus benefits) of $50/hour will be $400/hour. Is their value equal to the cost? Certainly not, if some are sitting there and making little or no contribution.

We usually encourage utilizing the roles of facilitator, scribe, timekeeper and process observer within the group/team, rather than using an admin to scribe, for example. If these roles are regularly rotated, all members make a contribution to meeting effectiveness at various points and take ownership in the outcomes. No longer will a person be able to show up and expect the meeting to just happen.

Thanks for the list and reminders – always a good topic as most everyone spends some point of their day in a meeting.

Sharlyn Lauby September 9, 2010 at 5:55 pm

Thanks for the comment Matthew. I really like the cost calculation. Might have to use that sometime…

Kathy Clark September 9, 2010 at 8:51 pm

This is so true. I’ve found having an agenda and minutes from a prior meeting to keep things moving forward are the most critical pieces. Managing dynamics is a whole other issue!

Good reminders for all of us!

Thanks!

Sharlyn Lauby September 10, 2010 at 8:15 am

Oh yeah, meeting dynamics are quite interesting. Especially the whole “where do I sit” issue. Thanks for the comment Kathy!

Kelley September 13, 2010 at 10:28 pm

I think all of the comments made are very valid. I agree most with your first point, Sharlyn. It is so frustrating to set aside time for a meeting only to find out that the meeting is pretty much unnecessary. Scheduling unnecessary meetings decreases productivity and I think also weakens the attendee’s perception of the meeting organizer. And as mentioned a few times, I think it is amazing how creating a simple agenda can improve the entire tone of a meeting. I think that an agenda is a clear statement of why the meeting was called in the first place and what hopes to be accomplished as a result of the meeting.

Sharlyn Lauby September 15, 2010 at 2:20 pm

Spot on comment Kelley. The meeting organizer can be viewed as lacking decision making ability if they call meetings for the wrong reason.

Katherine Razzi September 13, 2011 at 12:54 pm

Hi Sharlyn,

I’m commenting on an old post, but nonetheless an ongoing issue that I experience often. Most of the meetings I attend are unstructured. Again, I have to revert back to the days we used Quality Circles in the 80s to keep us on track at meetings. We shared taking turns as scribes, minute takers, and leading the meetings. The minutes were actually printed and preserved in binders by the VP’s secretary. If those minutes were not done in time – within a few days of the meeting – she would hunt us down for them! The minutes provided strict documentation as to task assignments, due dates, and other critical decisions made by the team or department. So, it was important to make sure those minutes were written/typed soon after the meeting, and approved by the leader to ensure accuracy. You cannot rely on other people’s casual notes alongside doodles. The minute taker’s job is very important, and as you say, “meetings are work.” They are not casual gatherings to chat about football scores… well, at least 98% of the meeting should be all business.

Once, I attended a casual meeting where I was the designer for an important company project. I didn’t take notes. Nobody took notes. When I returned to my desk and was asked by my colleague, who would assist me, for details, I had none to give because I couldn’t recall what was said at the meeting. My upset colleague actually said, “I can’t believe you attended this meeting and didn’t take any notes, Kathy.” She was right. I felt like an idiot. I learned then to always take my own notes. Had a minute taker been at the meeting, my notes may have not have been necessary depending on how well or detailed the person taking minutes was. Without them, the meeting was a complete waste of time and another had to be rescheduled. That was the first and last time I ever was without meeting notes again. I don’t want to rely on my memory!

I don’t like meetings that turn in to gripe sessions with no call to action, no brainstorming for solutions, no methodical approach to the problem or the root cause of the problems. And worst of all, hasty, flimsy decisions made by the managers who don’t get to the root cause and think that because they are managers, their resolution is the best. It may not be and the problems will just raise their ugly heads up the road.

Now, I’m going to check out your tips and SMART plan guide. I’m hoping this will be a new guide that I can advise the powers that be here to use for future meetings and task assignments.

Have a wonderful day!
k:
Katherine Razzi recently posted..Is Your Sounding Board Leak Proof?

Sharlyn Lauby September 13, 2011 at 3:51 pm

Thanks for the meeting story Katherine. I don’t always take copious notes during meetings, but I do make sure I’ve written down the outcomes along with deadline dates. It’s saved me more than once to have a ‘to-do’ list from a meeting.

Rob February 6, 2012 at 10:35 am

Great article. Good points. One exception – I know they call them SMART goals, but they really should be SMART objectives. Goals aren’t measurable entities, and the two are NOt synonymous.

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