• Eve Arnold

Meetings Need to Get Better — Here’s How


Photo by Campaign Creators on Unsplash

We’ve all been there. It is borderline torture. We sit through the hours of redundant conversation, the painful smiles and wait in anticipation for the only good thing about a four-hour meeting… the free lunch.

Meetings need to get better.

Now in the current climate we find ourselves in, it’s likely that meetings that once were in person, suits and all, are now via conference video call. But all the same concepts still apply.

To be clear, meetings are important. But they are a little bit like mustard, to be used sparingly or you’ll ruin the taste. Too many meetings ruins work-flow and productivity.

Meetings are only useful if a group of people need to get together to discuss something and then come to a decision. They can also be useful as a way to inform stakeholders about current state of affairs, in order to get their opinion.

If one of the following are true, you need a meeting:

  1. You need to make a group decision (that will take longer than a quick call).

  2. You need to get an opinion of a group and it isn’t feasible to do that separately.

  3. There is a need to inform and educate on what’s been going on in order to get steer.

The absolute pits of the corporate world is sitting in a four hour meeting, dull room, dull faces with no one really saying the obvious:

“This might have been better as an email to go through by ourselves”.

I once read that Elon Musk walks out of a meeting if he doesn’t feel it adds value. When I read that I thought, finally, someone who isn’t afraid to say the obvious. If you don’t need to be there, if you can’t add anything and your opinion isn’t counted, you should decline. Although it doesn’t feel particularly polite, it’s important for productivity to only go to the meetings you need to go to.

If you add no value, you should be able to get up and say “see you later.”

But lets say you need to be there. What are the bones of a good meeting?

There is a clear reason to be there and everyone knows it

If everyone in the room is clued up on why they are needed, they know the topic of conversation… that’s the first tick in the box.

Everyone knows ambition of the meeting

A little bit different to the above. Do we know what we are trying to achieve here? Is it to get a decision on something? Is it to inform ‘x’ about ‘y’? Whatever it is, make it clear so at the end of the meeting you can check that you’ve met the ambition.

If you want to know ask for peoples expectations at the start. That way you get an understanding of what people think they are there for. If it’s considerably different to why you’ve invited them to the meeting, you can nip it in the bud there and then.

The agenda is clear and well communicated – Meetings

There is structure. Without structure there is chaos. Conversations that should be about one can quite quickly turn into a discussion of completely something completely unrelated. The whole thing then becomes a bit of a waste of time. A clear agenda (with times) gives order to the meeting and makes sure you stay on track.

Agenda example from www.careerhealth.info

*Up/down is what is going well and what isn’t going so well

Conversation is topical and facilitated well.

If someone is rambling on about something that doesn’t matter it’s the facilitator’s duty to make them know it’s not adding value talking about ‘x’ when the meeting is about ‘y’. It sometimes feel a little bit of a thankless task facilitating. That you get short straw essentially telling people to be quiet but there are ways to say things that make it sound less harsh:

  1. It’s a good point shall we take a next step and move on?

  2. In the interest of time, we should move on.

  3. Sorry to interrupt but looking at the time I don’t want to fall behind shall we move on.

It’s important to identify the conversation that is adding value and the conversation that is not. If someone is repeating someone else’s point for the third time — cut the conversation. If someone is genuinely providing a different point of view let it carry on.

What’s next is communicated and logged throughout – Meetings

Meetings are about getting stuff done. Throughout the meeting they’ll inevitably be some next steps that come out to be logged. * Next steps being actions that need to be followed up on. During the meeting people will add things like ‘We need to understand who looks after this team in order to get them on board’. Which is fine but that isn’t a good action, it won’t get results. Actions need to be logged properly.

Example of a good action at www.careerhealth.info

An example of a bad action:

  1. Understand what team looks after ‘x’ so we can get them on board

An example of a good action:

  1. Understand which team looks after ‘x’, speak to ‘y’ by 20/05 and have a conversation with team manager by next week’s meeting — Owner EA

It seems a little overkill but tomorrow when you come to write this up you’ll have no idea who said what. The more specific you get the more likely the action is to get done.

Otherwise you’ll have people saying ‘can you explain this action?’ and you’ll have no clue at all.

Meetings are quite fascinating. A good meeting can save time, really move things along and give real clarity to the people involved what needs to be done. A bad meeting can do the opposite of all of those things.

Facilitated well, given clear structure and direction and clearly logging what’s next are all excellent ways to make sure the meeting doesn’t end up being a total car crash.

Like I said, mustard. Efficient when used sparingly.

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