Every organisation I’ve ever worked with has told me they have a problem with their meeting culture. People have too many meetings, and most meetings don’t feel like a good use of time.
Whether you’re the one organising the meeting, or you’re invited to attend, here are some practical ways to improve your meetings at work.
If You’re Organising/ Hosting a Meeting
Before the meeting:
- Check whether you really need to have a meeting. Could it be a quick conversation or phone call, or even an email update?
- Be clear on the rationale for who you’re inviting. What’s their role in the meeting? Can they provide updates, or make decisions? If not, they’re unlikely to be the right people to include.
- Ensure you are clear on the purpose of the meeting. What outcomes do you desire as a result of the meeting? Knowing this will help you stay focused and ensure there is a genuine need to meet.
- Check availability and avoid double-booking people, before sending invitations.
- Make the meeting subject/purpose clear in the invitation – don’t just write ‘meeting’.
- Add a high level agenda or a bullet point list of the purpose/desired outcomes of the meeting to the body of the invitation. This helps invitees know what to expect and prepare.
- Don’t default to 30 or 60-minute meetings. Some meetings expand to take as long as the time allotted, so schedule less time. It’s amazing what can be achieved in a short amount of time with a focused purpose, outcomes and agenda.
- Avoid the temptation to cram in multiple agenda items. Information updates may not require meetings. True discussions and decision-making should be given due time on the schedule.
- If actions are required in the meeting (e.g. discussions, decisions) circulate relevant background information beforehand as pre-reading. Be explicit about what will be expected in the meeting itself (e.g. a decision to be made).
During the meeting:
- Start on time. If your attendees suffer from habitual lateness, start training them to be there on time by getting underway at the scheduled time. This also shows respect for those who have made the effort to get there on time.
- Briefly set out the purpose/outcomes/agenda to ensure everyone is clear why they are present.
- Take notes of decisions/actions. Either make notes yourself or have a note-taker present to capture decisions, actions and outcomes.
- Summarise actions and outcomes at the end of the meeting so everyone knows the next steps.
- Finish 5 minutes early. Many people have back-to-back meetings booked, so finishing 5 minutes early will allow them to be on time for their next meeting.
If You’re Invited to Attend a Meeting
Before the meeting:
- Don’t automatically accept. If you’re not available or have something else at that time, it’s perfectly acceptable to decline and offer an alternative time.
- Equally, if you’re not sure what the meeting is for, or why you’re invited, check with the organiser before you accept. Ask the purpose of the meeting and what your role is, and what the meeting’s desired outcomes are. Don’t allow yourself to head off to meetings if you’re not sure what you’re going to.
- If you’re not the best person to attend, delegate the invitation. Be sure to delegate to someone who has the authority to make decisions/provide updates/contribute to the meeting, or you’ll simply waste their time and still have to get involved.
- If you have back-to-back meetings scheduled, let the organiser know you can’t be there on time/you’ll have to leave early. Don’t set yourself up for a day of running late from meeting to meeting.
- If pre-reading is included, schedule time in your calendar to read it and prepare for the meeting.
During the meeting:
- Be on time. As above, get out of the habit of allowing a schedule of back-to-back meetings either by declining, or explaining up-front that you’ll have to leave early to get to your next meeting on time.
- Be present. Meetings aren’t the time for checking emails and doing your work. If you’re not involved in the conversation, you shouldn’t be at the meeting.
- Be involved. If you’re not participating, you shouldn’t be there.
- Ensure you leave the meeting with an understanding of decisions, actions and next steps, especially actions that you have been tasked with. If the meeting organiser doesn’t offer these, speak up and ask before the meeting ends. Productive meetings become ineffective without clarity on actions and without accountability around next steps.
Changing your meeting culture won’t happen overnight, but adopting these small changes will make an impact. Share these tips with your co-workers to start making change today.