Making Meetings Effective

At some point we have all been part of a meeting; some have been useful others a colossal waste of time.  For many in the workforce the thought of going to a meeting is associated with dread, with the top ones that come to mind:

  • Why is management holding a meeting? What are they up to?
  • Why do I need to attend this meeting?
  • I am way too busy to attend a meeting right now
  • I wonder how much extra work I’ll get from attending?
  • Ok let the un-productivity start, and my favourite;
  • I hope it’s catered.

I have been to my fair share of great and really wasteful meetings and have found that there are a couple of very simple things that can be done to turn an otherwise useful experience into a great meeting.  So here are my rules for an effective meeting:

  1. Make sure there is a purpose

Seems pretty obvious but a lot of meetings are purely held for the sake of having a meeting.  Maybe someone thought it was a good idea to schedule regular meetings.  Perhaps there may have been a time when it delivered value, but if you are walking out of meetings thinking to yourself “well that was pointless” it may be time to examine the need for these meetings.

Meetings cost money- no I’m not talking about room hire, logistics, catering etc.  I’m talking more about the opportunity cost of having people away from their work and attend the meeting.  Using my simple cost of meeting equation, you can work out how much per year your department spends on meetings.

  • Consider the number of meetings you attend each week
  • The number of people who attend these meetings
  • The length of these meetings
  • The average wage of the attendees

Now take these numbers and multiply them together, this will be your cost per week.  Now multiply them by the number of weeks this happens (I tend to use around 45) for a conservative approach.

Now I want you to put your answer in the comments to get a feel for how much others spend on meetings.  Just list your industry and the cost of meetings per year.

For many of us this is a big number, it’s also a cost that isn’t factored in our project or departmental budgets.  As any of the variables you calculate increase, so does the cost of meetings.

  • 2 Invite the right people

Again, sounds pretty straightforward, but if you think about the number of people at the last meeting you attended and how many actually provided value you may realise that you have this wrong.  Again if you found that certain decisions couldn’t be made because person x wasn’t there, yep you got it wrong.

There is sometimes a feeling that everyone needs to be invited to meetings.  Just like when you throw a party, well I had better invite Jim otherwise he will feel left out, oh and if I invite Jim it doesn’t make sense not to invite Susan. It’s the snowball effect.  Remember point 1: the cost of meetings is related to the number of people.  Also if they do not need to be there you are taking them away from work they could be doing and most likely frustrating them.

An easy way to determine who is required is to do just that.  Consider the purpose of the meeting (Point 1).  If a decision is required, then invite all the people needed to make the decision.  If it’s consultation, invite the relevant representatives; also consider if a meeting is the best medium for this.2

  • 3 Have a plan

If you hold a meeting without a plan, it will most likely follow someone else’s plan.  This means you will most likely need to hold another meeting just to sort out what you needed.

A plan is simple, what do we want to achieve?

What do we want to get from this meeting?

Try and use SMART Goals

  • 4 Make a schedule

I have been to more circular meetings that I care to remember.  I’m not talking about the shape of the room, more so the flow.  Things just go round and round and nothing tangible gets achieved.  I have found that most of this can be attributed to the meetings not having a clear schedule.

Now hold on you don’t need to go Gantt Chart crazy here, just a run map.  You can make it like a session plan.  What are we going to cover, how long do we allow for each section and what resources do we need.  If you’re stuck use a simple session plan template.

  • 5  Give information prior to the meeting

There’s no point getting 20 people in a room and then printing off things for them to sit down and read.  Send any relevant information prior to the meeting. Make it a condition that they have read the materials prior to being part of the meeting.

One little trick I used was to book 15 minutes prior to the meeting for me to go over all the materials.  I would then write notes and be ready for the meeting.

  • 6  Use a RAM

Confused?  Well if you thought I was suggesting to have a male sheep at your meeting it is understandable.

A RAM stands for Responsibility Assignment Matrix.  A project management tool which should be used rather than the standard meeting action item lists.  The benefit of the RAM is that it makes a sole party accountable for each of the actions.  It also shows the other roles which are required for the task.  I like to use the PARIS legend.  Have a look at the RAM template or contact me and I will explain further- just don’t ignore it as it’s a great tool.

  • 7  Follow up

At the end of the meeting, don’t expect people will remember what happened, or will share the same interpretation of what transpired.  Send out minutes straight after the meeting.  I mean within an hour.  In several meetings I asked someone who wasn’t part of the meeting to come in and take notes.  In one meeting I had someone come with a laptop (and some fast typing skills) and the minutes were emailed within minutes of conclusion.

Make the attendees accountable within the minutes.  Instruct them to confirm the minutes are accurate.  Then follow up on the tasks, remember most people leave things to the last minute so follow up a couple of days before they are due and ask if they need any assistance.

So these are things that I have found to make meetings for effective, love to hear your thoughts.  Oh and don’t forget to include your yearly cost per meetings (point 1).



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