Meetings That Matter

We’re now several weeks into a new year, and many of us will be settling into a comfortable pace of work. Whether you took some time away from the proverbial ‘coal face’ over the festive period, or simply used the ‘lull’ in normal work-flow to catch up on your To Do list, January is often a month which marks the start of a new approach as to how we blend the demands of work with other commitments in our life.

When we ask our clients, ‘What challenges your resilience day-to-day?’, meetings are one of the most commonly-cited ‘time-stealers’ that they experience. Not only do poorly run meetings eat into valuable work-time, they can also push the whole diary out so that ‘after hours’ working becomes the go-to solution and extended hours threaten to become a toxic norm.

Take a moment to consider your usual weekly diary – do you know in advance of each week who you’ll be meeting with, and why? Have you laid time aside to prepare for the meeting, to ensure you make an effective contribution to discussions? Equally, have you apportioned time to make some notes post-meeting, including kick-starting key actions that might be assigned to you? Finally, if there are meetings already diarised, are they generally scheduled to run for 30-60 minutes, or are they open-ended, posing a potential threat to your planning for the remainder of that day?

Here are six time-savvy tips to ensure that meetings add to your work-day, rather than detract from it:

1. DIARY PLANNING – Take a good look at your diary of upcoming meetings and consider the balance between desk-time and meeting-time. Are you overloading your diary with meetings, leaving little time for ‘getting on with things’? It’s as important to book good quality desk-time into your diary as it is to schedule effective meetings. Consider what your optimum balance is and ensure desk-time has appropriate representation. Also consider whether meetings are better between certain hours. This will be more complex to manage in international teams, but it’s still worth reviewing. If you’re UK based, post 3pm on a Friday is not going to set you up for success.

2. TIMINGS – The most effective meetings run for 30-60 minutes. Any longer and it’s worth building in a brief comfort break to re-focus and re-energise. The longer you run on without a break, the more likely it is that the meeting veers off-topic. If there are multiple topics to address, consider several short, sharp, targeted meetings instead, with a clear 15-minute break between them. Where an internal meeting is scheduled for 60 minutes, consider working together to finish around 10 minutes early, allowing everyone time to complete their notes and clarify actions.

3. AGENDA – A clear and concise agenda is key. It forms a backbone for the meeting and helps to keep discussions on track. If you’ve been invited to a meeting without an agenda, contact the organiser and ask for one. Ensure AOB is just that – don’t use it as a catch-all. Take time to ensure all agenda items are suitably listed. This will quickly flush out if a meeting is likely to expand outside of the planned time-frame, and you can revise the timings accordingly. Far better to manage expectations at the outset than start to eat into other timings in your (and others’) work-day. Before the meeting ends, review the agenda points to clarify ownership (who, what, when) against agreed action points. This may not feel like it saves time in the meeting itself, but it will certainly save time afterwards, when everyone is clear on what’s required, by when and from whom.

4. OUTCOME – Consider what will make the meeting successful for you – what’s your desired outcome? Is it to share knowledge, secure sign-off, gain important updates on a project? Knowing what you want to achieve before you go into the meeting will ensure it’s an effective use of your time.

5. BEFORE AND AFTER – With busy diaries it can be difficult to find time to adequately prepare in advance of a meeting. For each meeting that you schedule, build in 15-30 minutes before the meeting to allow you to prepare mentally – refresh your reading, finalise your notes. Build time in after the meeting to update your notes and kick-start any actions required from you. Schedule or reserve time in your diary now to complete any extended actions. This ensures these actions don’t over-ride other commitments or slide into a black hole.

6. QUALITY NOT QUANTITY – In many workplaces, a meeting culture is one that erodes productivity rather than supports it. High-quality meetings bring key stakeholders together to build consensus and agree shared outcomes. Low-quality meetings simply place a variety of people in the same room or on the same video call, on the premise of discussing a shared project. Aim for quality rather than quantity – consider timings, agenda, preparation and follow-up as basic house-keeping – everyone, including you, will benefit from this.

In today’s workplace, meetings take many forms and blend a range of formats and technology. The above ‘basics’ can be applied to most scenarios. Making meetings matter will ensure that you’re able to benefit from good quality connection that supports effective collaboration.

How will you make your meetings matter?

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