We've all sat through a terrible meeting - one that feels like a waste of time with no clear output or progress at the end.
Not only are these types of meetings demotivating for staff - but they can actually be a waste of money. Curious to know how much unproductive meetings are costing you? Harvard Business Review created a meeting cost calculator.
Now ask yourself, if I was paying for this meeting - is this meeting worth it?
How can you ensure your team doesn't walk out of the next meeting with the same frustrations? Conducting an effective meeting takes some pre-planning, facilitation and follow-up, but the results can be significant - so let's dive in.
Designate a facilitator
When everyone has an idea to bring to the table, meetings can quickly devolve into chaos, with people talking over each other and no decisions being made.
Designate a facilitator to oversee the meeting before it begins, to keep it efficient and inclusive.
As the facilitator you should think about timing, meeting agenda and the audience. Throughout the meeting, keeping it to time and on-topic will be vital to success, so be prepared to keep the team in check.
Implement a strict policy that only one person speaks at once. This will help maintain order and encourage the group to actively listen to what's being discussed. It also helps to encourage quieter members of the group to contribute and have their say.
Have a clear goal
What is the purpose of the meeting? Do we need to gather information, collaborate on new ideas, make a decision - or maybe all of the above?
Whatever you're trying to accomplish, if you're unsure of what you're trying to achieve then it's likely it will not happen. It's vital for a successful meeting to have a clear goal. If you don’t have a goal, ask yourself why you’re having the meeting.
Make the goal clear to everyone before the meeting begins so there are no misunderstandings.
Time-box the meeting
Let's face it, meetings have a tendency to drag on longer than you initially expected which can impact the team's workload for the rest of the day when they finally arrive back at their desk.
With a clear agenda and objective, it should be easier for the facilitator to time box the meeting into sections with goals and stick to it.
Once you hit the halfway point, check-in to see how well you are progressing towards reaching your objectives. It's a great opportunity to rein in any off-topic discussions and keep the team focused on what they're there to achieve before they run out of time.
Learn to actively listen
We're all guilty of it, while someone else is talking we're thinking of the next point we want to make - often missing what the other person is saying eagerly waiting to jump back in.
During your next meeting, stay attentive to the person speaking. Focus on their words and what they're trying to convey. If you have a question, wait until they're finished and keep it to clarification questions until they're done.
There are lots of techniques to improve how actively you listen. Check out the Forbes article on active listening for more tips.
Divide, discuss and collate
With a large audience, meetings can be prolonged unnecessarily if everyone is taking a turn to speak. But how can you ensure you capture everyone’s input within a reasonable timeframe?
Why not try dividing the audience into small groups or even pairs to discuss topics. Timebox this discussion and at the end have everyone present and collate their results. This will ensure all the benefits of the entire audience's ideas are captured and refined.
Ask the right questions, right
Sometimes we don't get the answers we want from a question - but are you asking the right questions?
If you want to prompt a discussion, use open questions such as 'what steps can we take to achieve that?' or ‘How do you feel about this?’.
If a Yes or No response is more relevant, stick to closed questions such as 'can we deliver this before the deadline?’ or ‘does everyone know what they need to do?'.
If you don't quite get the response you were looking for you can as 'how does this impact topic?' to dig deeper.
Stick to the topic
Even with the best intentions, meetings can seem like a great opportunity to raise something you've been meaning to ask the group. Unfortunately, this can quickly de-rail the meeting impacting the original agenda leaving potentially multiple topics discussed but with no objectives.
Meetings can often bring out interesting or useful discussions, it's just this meeting isn't always the right time to discuss it. Try having the facilitator keep a 'parking list' for topics that go off-track. This way you can capture important topics that branch from the agenda and revisit them later. The team should also respect the facilitator if they flag a discussion as off-topic.
Now that you've followed all these steps you should find that meetings run to time and conversations are productive and relevant to business objectives. To ensure you keep the momentum, end the meeting by summarising what the goal was, the steps that will need to be taken after the meeting and a follow-up date so people have a deadline.
If your first meeting doesn't go perfectly, ask the team to reflect on what went well, what wasn't so great and what people will take ownership of improving for the next meeting.