(This article is a continuation of We Need to Talk About Meetings)
So far, we’ve discussed what it takes to plan for a good meeting. You’re feeling good about your meeting objective and agenda, you’ve got the right people in the room, and you’ve scheduled well in advance.
Now you find yourself in the actual meeting…now what?
This article overviews some small but important steps you can take to maximize the output you get from your meetings. Let’s dive right in.
Respect Start and End Times:
All of your meetings should begin promptly and end at their scheduled time. Not only does this demonstrate respect for your attendees’ time, it also improves your chances of getting to everything on your agenda.
Remember Parkinson’s Law? To recap, Parkinson’s Law says that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” In other words, if a meeting has a defined end time, you and your attendees will find a way to get everything done in that time.
Ending your meetings on time also means that your attendees’ next meetings can start on time because no one will have to wait on them. We’ve all had days where our first meeting runs long causing a domino effect of being late to every subsequent meeting. Be the meeting that breaks the cycle!
Staying on Topic
Ever been in one of those meetings where you get to exactly one agenda item before someone says something that sends the whole conversation off on a tangent? In the previous iteration of this article, we spoke about the importance of agendas and their role in defining how you will reach your meeting objective. Another benefit of agendas is that they help keep meetings on track.
If a new or unexpected point comes up in the meeting, it is worth your time to explore it, but not at the expense of your agenda. When a non-agenda item is surfaced, take note of it (or “put it in the parking lot”) and revisit it at another time. You may even build 5-10 minutes of flex time at the end of your meeting for the sole purpose of circling back to these unanticipated “parking lot” items.
Pro Tip: Assign time limits to each agenda item to keep the meeting moving efficiently.
Creating a Safe Space and “Managing Air Time”
The beauty of meetings is that they enable everyone to bring their diverse sets of experiences, ideas, and questions to the table. However, you can only capitalize on your team’s collective brainpower to the extent that everyone is willing and able to share their input.
In The Making of a Manager, Julie Zhuo speaks to the importance of creating a safe space in your meeting and “managing air time.” We’ve all been in meetings where one person dominates the conversation, leaving no room for anyone else to contribute. In those instances, your job as the meeting facilitator is to create opportunities for others to chime in. You might say something to the effect of, “That is a good idea, Brian, and I appreciate how many ideas you have brought with you today. I want to ensure we hear from everyone, and we haven’t heard from Hannah in a while. Hannah, what are your thoughts?”
An alternate (or additional) dynamic is that some people might not feel comfortable speaking up or might not think they are allowed to chime in. This can be especially true with junior team members and or folks representing minority demographics (see Stereotype Threat). In these instances, it is important to establish norms or “ground rules” for your meeting in the beginning. You may say, “For the next sixty minutes, there is no seniority. Everyone’s ideas and feedback will carry equal weight.” Again, you may also need to create space for quieter team members or those struggling to get a word in. “It looks like Stacey might want to say something. Did you have any thoughts on this, Stacey?”
…aaaand “Break!”: Having Action Steps
How many times has this happened to you: You sit in a meeting, and it goes great. Ideas are flowing, people are enthusiastic, everyone is aligned on what needs to happen next. The next meeting rolls around and, much to everyone’s surprise, nothing has gotten done. Why? Because, even though everyone agreed on what should happen next, no one agreed on who would do it.
Accountability is critical. The now-famous “bystander effect” illustrates that without individual accountability, everyone just assumes someone else will do the work.
Nothing gets done when there is a diffusion of responsibility. Spend the last 5-10 minutes of your meeting recapping the next steps and determining ownership of each one.
Meetings are hard. They require planning, strategizing, and stakeholder management, but, when done correctly, they can be transformed from time-wasters to moneymakers.
Let me know how you are changing your approach to meetings, or if you have any best practices of your own to share, in the comments below!
*Goes back on mute.*