There are many people who think meetings are a waste of time. That may be because the meetings they go to are a waste of time. The reality is, meetings are as good as the planning, preparation, and participation that goes into them. In the last 22 years, I’ve been to great meetings, okay meetings, and flat out terrible meetings. Here are some of the things I learned that help create a good meeting.
Have someone in charge of the meeting. Make sure someone has a position which can move the meeting agenda along and keep the meeting on track and on time. It’s the person in charge’s responsibility to make sure the meeting starts and ends on time and stays on track with the agenda. This particularly means if things start to get sidetracked her or she can bring the meeting back to where it needs to be.
Some will tell you meetings should be all business and follow closely to an agenda. While I agree there needs to be plenty of business and plenty of opportunity for an agenda, the meeting is also a time for socializing and checking in on each other and making sure everyone is in alignment. There needs to be the right mix of socializing, playful teasing, having fun, and doing serious work. All seriousness makes for a boring meeting.
Meetings should start on time and end on time. Usually… What do I mean by this? If the meeting is scheduled for an hour it should be over before the hour is over. However, if there is a subject that needs to be talked about and there is a subject that is super sensitive and needs to be explored, then the meeting needs to go longer to handle that. That could mean the meeting may last two hours or even 10 hours depending on how serious the subject is. Of course, that should be the exception to the rule. Most should start on time and on time, but you have to have the exception and ability to be flexible when the time arises.
Have someone take notes, but not too many notes. We have made the mistake in our meetings by having someone take notes and it ends up being 2 to 3 pages of journalistic type entries. But really, do you need all those notes to remember who was assigned to do what work by when? That is really all the notes need to be—a summary of who was assigned to do work by when. Then you should have those notes sent out as soon as the meeting’s over to every participant in the meeting. This allows you, in the next meeting, to start with bringing out those notes and following up on what was assigned the previous week or previous meeting.
We strive to start all our meetings with “the good news.” We got this idea from the book Scaling Up by Verne Harnish. It provides a good start to a meeting by beginning on a high note.
Meetings should be able to ask the hard questions. You can’t have a meeting where it is just fluff, or people just slide by and tell their agenda for the week. You have to be able to ask hard questions, big and hard subjects, and not have anyone be offended. This happens from having a good culture and a good environment where you know you have each other‘s backs and you are truly trying to solve a problem. If someone is using the meeting for a political platform, then it’s probably time to ask that person not to come back.
In summary, meetings are a great place to get things done, to collaborate, and to create strategy. Meetings should not be bogged down or held simply because there’s a time for them. If there is nothing to speak about or do, you should cancel the meeting and go back to work.
Keep Living Every Minute,
Dr. Tim, M.D.