As part of my work helping people and teams handle change, I’ve developed a workshop and a set of tools to help teams make more effective use of the time they spend in meetings. I gave this material a clever name: “theBigRocks of Effective Meetings“. OK, maybe it’s not so clever, but I want to share one of the things that I emphasize each time I facilitate the workshop:
Be sure that at some point within the first 5 minutes of each meeting everyone in the room can answer three questions:
- Why are we meeting today?
- What do we expect to accomplish?
- When do we expect to be done?
Why Are We Here? Think of all the meetings you’ve attended (or lead) in the past couple weeks. Be honest, did you know exactly what the meeting was about before you sat down? Did you figure it out half way through? Or did you leave the meeting still scratching your head? After figuring out the meeting’s intent, did you wonder whether you (or someone else) even needed to be there?
Let’s be straight-up about the intention of our meetings. State the “Big Why” up front.
What Will We Accomplish? A close relative of the “Big Why” for your meeting is the “Big What” of it. Go back to your list of meetings from the past couple weeks. Which of those gatherings produced a specific outcome that was anticipated beforehand? Which of them droned on and on without any clear outcome except to “come back the next day”, “continue an open dialogue ” or “do more offline research“? Could some of them have been more effective if they had a clear focus?
Here are a few examples of clear “Big What” & “Big Why” expectations for meetings:
- Closure: “We’re going to make a decision on XYZ in this meeting. We have several options, so there will be some discussion. We intend to seek consensus and get an agreement that we can all sign off on TODAY”.
- Exposure: “We’re here today to let people know what’s going on with the project, to inform them and offer some one-way communication. No preparation needed, just listen“.
- Dialogue: “We have a lot of information to share today, but we’re also here to listen and gather feedback. We’ll present the material in 4 parts, with a little discussion after each section. I hope you read the document we sent yesterday, because this may be your best opportunity to express opinions and save us from driving the project off a cliff…”
- Planning: “Today we’ll start planning for the next series of roll-outs. First we’ll verify that everyone understands the goals, then brainstorm a list of activities for the roll-out, identify resources and set an initial schedule.”
The Fix: By far the most formal way to express the intentions of the meeting is a written agenda. Many companies incorporate having a written agenda into a set of official “ground rules” everyone is expected to follow. People may even be given permission to ask for the agenda 24 hours in advance so they can prepare…
On the lower end of the formality spectrum is the simple act of picking up a fruit-scented marker within the first 5 minutes of the meeting and writing the purpose of the meeting on the wall. Look around the room and ask if anyone thinks the meeting is actually about something else. Verify that the right people are in the room to address the written goal and get started. Sounds simple enough, right?
Action Item: Here’s an idea: for the next 2 weeks, make sure that EVERY meeting you lead has either a written agenda or a clear goal statement written on the whiteboard within the first 5 minutes. If you are an attendee in someone else’s meeting, consider the time that will be wasted if you don’t make the 60-second investment it would take for you or someone else to provide this clarity.
In each case, the attendees will know right away why they’re in the meeting & what the result should look like by the time they leave. Which brings me to tomorrow’s topic: how to honor people’s time during meetings…
Question for Chatter:
- Can a 2-minute declaration scribbled on the board at the start of a meeting really serve the same purpose as a carefully crafted written agenda?