Meetings, Bl**dy Meetings!

“Meetings are a waste of time. I’m just too busy to spend time in meetings. I’ve got too much work to do”. Sound familiar? And when I hear this I often do see people flying around frantically fire fighting, often getting lots of interruptions and not being at all sure where they are going. Does that sound familiar too?

I like to think of meetings as gaining leverage for myself. Making sure that people know what I am trying to achieve and helping me forward. Likewise I like to know what others are trying to achieve and helping them forward. This way I cut down on my interruptions and know I will have a focussed discussion with my colleagues…so I don’t need to interrupt them and hopefully they don’t interrupt me.

Its not that I’m anti interruptions – what I call corridor conversations. There will always be the unexpected and that’s fair enough. Its just that I’d rather be better organised than that and have my mind clear to discus important matters when my mind is really focussed on the topic, rather than in the middle of five million other important things I am trying to achieve.

So what are the constituents of a good meeting?

    • A leader. All teams need leaders. Leadership styles need to change with the situation. In the middle of a crisis we need a dictator – just ****** do it. But more often it is someone who can set up a discussion, draw in different opinions and only then conclude. It may be a good idea to rotate the leadership of a meeting – it helps people develop and enables them to run meetings as they think they should be run. It also helps them understand that running meetings is not as easy as they might think – which might make them more supportive at the next meeting!
    • A plan: The meeting needs to know its direction. How long the meeting is going to take, what we are going to discuss. Too often meetings try and boil the ocean all at once. Provided I know that the topic is coming up in the meeting I don’t need to bring it up in the middle of another topic. It is the role of the leader to manage this plan.
    • Minutes: These are a useful way of asking people to discuss the issue outside of the meeting – or to do something. It enables the meeting to move on and not get bogged down in the detail. They are also a good reminder of what was agreed.

How long should a meeting last?

My view is that anything more than two hours is beyond my concentration level. If it needs to be more than that then there should be a scheduled break. That way people stay focussed and therefore effective. It can be very useful to make it clear that the meeting will last no longer than a certain time. This can be achieved by telling people that we will stand up at a certain time. It is amazing how much more quickly meetings go when people are standing up!

How often should a meeting take place?

For management teams my view is that we should meet once a month on a rhythm that fits the business – the third Thursday of the month is quite a good time. However in some situations that require tighter management, once a week is effective – first thing Monday morning, or Friday morning. These become more tactical meetings dealing with day to day issues. I find them more effective with junior staff, less necessary with experienced staff or teams.

How to deal with follow ups.

How do you get people to do the actions that they have agreed to in a meeting? Its no good leaving it to the next meeting to review whether people have done the actions they agreed from the last meeting. I have found it effective to re-circulate the minutes a week before the next meeting. Instead of Portrait I set them up as Landscape with another column for people to record what they have done with the action. All I am really looking for is “done” – or an explanation on progress. If people haven’t done the action they are often reminded to do it before the meeting – if nothing else to avoid the embarrassment of saying they haven’t done it. Once everybody has commented the completed follows up can be re-circulated prior to the meeting. If people still haven’t done their action by then I have found that they will now try to get it done.

But what if they still haven’t done their action?

This is where the leader has to step in and deal with the individual on a one to one basis. There is probably some more fundamental problem that needs addressing. Maybe they are struggling with their work load – and maybe not delegating effectively – and maybe they need help with running their own meetings.

Team briefing.

Once the team meeting is over, it can be a good idea to make sure that the key messages/ decisions are communicated onwards. Often those who attend important meetings don’t realise their responsibility to pass on information at their own team meeting. A written brief may be the most effective way of doing that – or sometimes the minutes can be a useful reminder.

Do get the minutes out quickly.

I have always favoured quick and cheerful rather than slow and 100% accurate. Fundamentally minutes are there to remind people of what they agreed to do.

What do I do if some people can’t attend?

My view is that the meeting should run anyway. From time to time people can’t attend. However it may be important to deal with persistent offenders on a one to one basis.

One to one meetings

There is a place for a regular team meeting and there is also a place for a regular one to one session with each direct report. I recommend setting two hours aside in your diary each month for each person that works for you – just as you do for the team. This is a more flexible date between two people. My view is that it is flexible, but must happen sometime. So either person can change the date but must organise another time.

I find the one to one session is much more personal. However I do the same things as in a team meeting – plan what I want to cover, take notes, review actions. It is much more of a mentoring role, particularly with senior staff. It enables me to get buy in to my plans; it enables difficult issues to be discussed in a calm way; I often use it to get the staff member to set their own goals and targets – which means I have their buy in to the way forward right from the start.

In my experience I have found that if I have these two types of meeting running each month I am left alone for the rest of the month to get on with my own work. It reduces the level of interruptions and instils a sense of order. It enables more forward thinking which in itself prevents some of those crises.

Meetings, bl**dy meetings? I wouldn’t be without them!

Written by Paul Green

Paul Green

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