“A meeting consists of a group of people who have very little to say – until after the meeting.”
– P.K. Shaw
Whether you’re the boss or the attendee, you don’t want to spend an hour in a meeting thinking about how you’re not getting any other work done. Meetings have extraordinary potential for bringing out our best, but they usually just make us sleepy.
Choose Attendees Carefully:
You can’t control attendees at every meeting. Staff meetings, like your morning fire-up, are for everyone. Keep those short and bold. For more collaborative meetings, choose your attendees wisely. Are you inviting them for the insight and/or experience they bring to the table, or because their feelings would be hurt if you don’t?
7 people has been shown to be the perfect balance of diversity and sanity for a good meeting. There is some room for movement around this sweet spot, with a couple people more or less than the magic 7. Less than 5 attendees, and you may struggle to achieve the critical mass of energy needed for innovative ideas to emerge. More than 9 people in a room and people will have trouble being heard, to the point that some will fade into the background potentially pulling their ideas off the table with their voices.
Implement Standing Meetings:
Standing meetings let the participants know the meeting will be short and concise. It allows everyone to make decisions and move on allowing the meetings to be shorter and everyone to be more productive.
At our office we have a standing meeting every morning. It is always 15 minutes max and happens every single day. This allows us to start the day off right and we wouldn’t go without it now.
Distribute a Written Agenda Beforehand:
Agendas are your secret weapon for controlling the meeting’s trajectory. They communicate the meeting’s purpose and show the roadmap for how to get there.
Whether you have a set agenda (although it should never be truly static), or a one-off, distribute it beforehand with the explicit expectation that attendees review it.
If you want to involve everyone on a deeper level, ask for their feedback in crafting it. This sets a more collaborative tone which you may or may not want.
Be Brutal with Tangents:
If a one staff member rambles on to another staff member about his weekend, headache, or cat’s eating habits, it wastes the time of 2 people. If this happens in a meeting, the waste is exponential. Let people know beforehand that you will shut that down, and then don’t be shy about doing so.
It gets complicated when the tangents stop being about cats, and start being about another aspect of the business that needs to be talked about, even though it has nothing to do with the meeting’s agenda-driven purpose. Keep the meeting on track, and either ask them to carry it on later or give them a few minutes to sidebar and return while you carry on with the main group. Otherwise you’ll sacrifice the intact goal of one meeting for the partially formed goals of 2 meetings.
Seems obvious, right? The reality is that if a person doesn’t feel heard in a meeting, they will feel deflated and contribute less the next time.
It’s the organizers job to create and keep an open, respectful space where everyone feels heard. If there’s disrespect, shut it down decisively. If a few people are monopolizing, reach out to the quiet ones, who sometimes have the best ideas go unnoticed.
Take Notes & Hold Accountable:
If a meeting happens and nobody remembers it, was it useful? Of course not. So always take notes, even if it seems trivial.
Make sure the notes names, so that you can hold them accountable at the next meeting. But, beware of the “Hank thought of it so Hank has to do it,” trap. If Hank thinks that every idea he has will end up in the record with his name and as yet another task stacked on him, he’ll just stay quiet. Find the balance between holding people accountable and being punitive.