When you are a leader, you are required to attend a lot of meetings. You have management meetings, planning meetings, training meetings, project meetings, etc. The list goes on… meetings, meetings, meetings… Sometimes they are very effective meetings and other times they are almost a complete waste of time. So what does it take to have effective meetings?
8 Keys to Run Effective Meetings
Before getting people together in a meeting, understand the value of people’s time. People are busy and have many important responsibilities they must address on a regular basis. Be considerate of others’ time and the many things they have to do.
Too many meetings are held just for the sake of having a meeting. Often there is no purpose for the meeting except that the meeting has always been held, thus it continues to happen. These meetings are most likely a waste of time because they are not effective.
Keeping that in mind, it is very important that when you do organize people into a meeting, you make sure you are holding effective meetings. If you plan your meetings using the eight points outlined below, your meetings will have a much greater chance of being successful.
To run effective meetings, the meetings must have a purpose. Meetings should be used to make decisions or convey information that can only be done in a meeting setting.
Oftentimes people hold meetings to convey information that could easily be sent in an email. Having a meeting to convey that information is not a good purpose for having a meeting. If you can send an email instead of holding a meeting just send the email so people can be more effective with their time. This is especially important when people have to travel long distances to attend the meeting.
There are, however, many good reasons for having meetings. The list below contains several reasons to have a meeting. It is not an all-inclusive list, but it helps identify types of scenarios that would require a meeting.
- Kick-off meeting – This is useful on large complex projects that involve multiple parties.
- Coordination meeting – Everyone needs to be on the same page before moving forward on work.
- Decision meeting – Come to a consensus on important decisions more quickly than going back and forth on emails, phone calls, etc.
- Brainstorming session – Often people can feed off each other to come up with a creative solution when they are brainstorming together.
- Training – One person can teach many people something new in a teacher-student setting. The students can also teach each other the information they learn to cement the information in their minds.
- Safety meetings – Safety meetings are very important in a hazardous workplace because they heighten people’s awareness to safety and the potential hazards that exist.
There are many other valid reasons for having effective meetings. Just be sure that you only call meetings when you have a valid purpose so you don’t waste your time or the time of others.
Having the right people in the meeting is just as important as having a purpose for your meeting. When you call a meeting, you should have the right people in the room so you can reach solutions.
If you will be making important decisions, be sure to have the decision makers in the meeting. If you’re implementing a new procedure, make sure you have those in charge of implementing it in the meeting. If you are doing brainstorming, have the people that currently DO the work in the room so they can give you the appropriate feedback and have buy-in on the new decision.
You won’t be able to have effective meetings if you don’t have the right people in the room. You may create great solutions, but lack the proper buy-in or decision making powers you need to move forward.
The most ineffective meetings I have ever attended have been the ones where there was no agenda from the start. Everyone showed up to the meetings with different expectations which led to confusion, frustration, and ineffective meetings.
The agenda is a small thing that can often be overlooked, but it is one of the most important aspects of the meeting. The agenda acts as a roadmap for the meeting. It provides direction and helps people stay on track.
An agenda should include the following:
- The date and time of the meeting
- The title of the meeting
- The end goals, purpose, and specific objectives of the meeting
- The meeting facilitator
- The person in charge of taking meeting minutes.
- The main points/topics that will be discussed
- The length of time you will talk about each topic
There is no substitute for adequate preparation. Meeting preparation is so important because it allows everyone to show up to the meeting ready to talk about the identified topics.
The following four steps will help everyone be more prepared for your meetings.
First, send the agenda to the meeting participants prior to the meeting. This will allow everyone to review the discussion topics. They can prepare mentally to discuss the topics outlined. Additionally, if there are topics they are unfamiliar with, they can do their research so they are prepared for the discussion.
Second, give people pre-meeting assignments. When you give people pre-meeting assignments, they are much more likely to show up prepared for the discussion topics. You can assign people to read specific materials, take specific tests, obtain specific information, or do any other thing that is specific to your meeting.
I recently attended a training class and about a month before the class I received an email from the instructors letting me know that I needed to read some articles and take a few tests in preparation for the meeting. Everyone else in the class received the same email, so when we finally met everyone was prepared and we were able to get right into the material.
As another example, I am the co-chair of a procedure change team for several very specific procedures. Prior to each team meeting, I send out an agenda and give people specific assignments so everyone shows up prepared. This has been very beneficial because everyone shows up ready to discuss the topics and we don’t have to go through all the background information at the start. We can just jump right into it.
Third, assign specific meeting topics to different people. When you assign people to talk on specific topics, it gets them more involved in the meeting and discussion topics. They have the opportunity to prepare for the meeting and get to experience what it feels like to keep everyone on track with their topic. It also helps people learn the topics more thoroughly so they become an expert on whatever they talk about.
Fourth, create meeting rules for effective meetings. Prior to the meeting, each person has their own expectations of how the meeting will be run and what is and is not proper meeting etiquette. By creating meeting rules for effective meetings before the meeting, everyone will show up with the same set of rules in mind and everyone will be on the same page. An example of some rules are:
- The meeting will start and end on time.
- Each person is expected to come prepared for the discussion.
- Discussion topics outside the scope of the meeting will be tabled for future discussions.
- Each person will have equal opportunity to speak and have their points heard.
- Titles don’t exist in the meeting; everyone is a meeting participant.
- No one is exempt from following the rules.
The meeting rules for effective meetings to help everyone know what is expected of them so they act accordingly. They also provide a framework for the meeting by setting standards.
Once the meeting has started, it is important to stay focused on the predetermined agenda topics. Each of the first four keys is very important, but they mean nothing if you don’t stay focused once you are in the meeting. To maintain effective meetings, you must stay focused.
If you know beforehand that specific people may have a hard time staying focused during the meeting, ask them to help you in the meeting by staying on topic. Once they take ownership of staying focused, they will likely try to keep everyone else on task as well. As a result, you will have a much more focused meeting.
If you don’t stay focused in the meeting, all the preparation work you did before the meeting amounts to wasted or untimely effort. Additionally, if the meeting was important enough to schedule and you don’t stay focused to discuss the important points, you will have to reschedule the meeting for another time in the future. Therefore, it is very important that you stay on topic so you can accomplish your goals and the purpose of the meeting.
You can ensure effective meetings by keeping focused. Some techniques are redirecting sidebar discussions back to the group, refocusing the group on the meeting topics, or taking short breaks as needed.
I have sat through many meetings where everyone was involved in an extensive discussion and no one took any notes or minutes. After the meeting got over and a few days had passed, everyone had completely forgotten what they were supposed to do as a result of the meeting. Why? Because no one took meeting minutes and sent them out to everyone that was in attendance.
To keep a record of your effective meetings, it is important to take meeting minutes. Unless you are a really fast writer or typist, it is unlikely you will be able to track every word each person says. What you can do, however, is keep track of all the main points. Identify the following:
- Meeting date and time
- Persons in attendance
- Main points of the meeting
- Who said what
- Solutions or decisions met or agreed upon
- Assignments/action items
By tracking all the information outlined above, you will have a record of the meeting you can send out to all meeting participants and refer back to in the future. That record will be very useful.
One of the most important parts of effective meetings is tracking the assignments/action items. When you track the action items, be sure to keep track of everything each person is supposed to do as a result of the meeting.
Be sure that the action items are clear and that they follow the same criteria as SMART goals. The action items should be specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timely. If the action items are outside that criteria, they will likely be unsuccessful.
At the end of effective meetings, review the action items with each person in the meeting. Make sure the action items are clear and each person has their own action items written down so they can understand and complete them.
Additionally, when you send out the meeting minutes, let each person know exactly what they are supposed to do in a clear and concise way. This will help confirm the action items discussed in the meeting.
By tracking the action items, you hold people accountable. When people know you are track action items, they are often more likely to be involved in the meeting and pay closer attention to what is being discussed.
You cannot have effective meetings without follow-up. Follow-up is essential. Some people will do their action items whether or not they know you will follow up with them, however, many people will not do their action items. They will forget or put the action item to the side.
At the end of the meeting, give each person a specific timeline for when you will follow-up with them and then do it. When you follow up with them, it will demonstrate that accountability is important to you and they need to do what they say they will do.
If people have not completed their action items when you follow up, don’t get discouraged and think the meeting was a complete failure. Instead, realize that each person has other own responsibilities and they probably didn’t realize the importance of the action item time frame. Reiterate the importance of completing the action item and give them a new completion date.
Another technique for effective meetings with action items is to follow-up a day or two before the action item completion date to see how everything is going. Let them know that you are there to help and the completion of the action item is important to you.
Ask them if they are having any problems or trouble completing the action item. If they are, be willing to help identify alternative methods to complete the action items. The goal is to provide support without micromanaging or doing the task for them.
When people feel that you support them on their action item, they will more likely complete them especially if they know that you are going to follow up with them afterwards.
Implementing the 8 Keys to Run Effective Meetings
Meetings are an everyday part of any leader’s life. Just as a recap, the steps are:
- Start with a purpose
- Invite the right people
- Plan an effective agenda
- Prepare for the meeting
- Stay focused
- Take meeting minutes
- Track the action items
- Follow-up on the action items
The steps outlined above will help you run effective meetings so you can be productive and make an effective use of time. Because the 8 Keys to Run Effective Meetings are so helpful, I created two business cards that you can print out as a quick reference.
Now that you know the 8 Keys to Run Effective Meetings, it is important to begin using and following them. Write out the steps and determine how they are applicable to you and the meetings you hold.
If you are anything like me, you hold a lot of your own meetings, and go to a lot of meetings held by others. When you attend the meetings of others, share this information with them so that they too can hold more effective meetings.
By helping everyone else follow the 8 Keys to Effective Meetings, you will be able to have much more effective meetings.
Have you used any of the 8 Keys to Run Effective Meetings before? If so, how did it help you create effective meetings? Is there a key that stood out more to you than the rest? If so, why? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below!