Running effective meetings has always been important. Increasingly, most organizations are trying to do more with less; less money, less resources, less staff. In this environment, the efficiency of every staff member has a great impact on what the organization can get done, and done well, each and every day.
Each year, organizations spend thousands of staff-hours in meetings. It’s an insightful exercise to calculate the cost of meetings by simply estimating the average hourly cost of an attendee, times the number of attendees, times the number of hours in any given timeframe (ie week, month, or year). If you’ve ever done this you may be surprised at the magnitude of the result.
Couple the cost with the fact that many employees loath attending meetings and would argue that they are a waste of time. One study found that “almost half of the survey respondents stated that they would rather perform some type of unpleasant activity—including visits to the dentist or nightmarishly-long commutes—than attend a status meeting.”
In this post we tackle some of the common obstacles to running an effective meeting, and what you can do about them.
Potential Obstacles When Running an Effective Meeting
1. Why Am I Here?
A common complaint employees have when attending meetings is that they don’t contribute. If the topics discussed have no relevance to a particular individual, then they become disengaged and both the individual and the organization lose the opportunity to use that person’s time in a better way.
Solution – When planning a meeting, invite as few people as possible based on the objective or goal of the meeting. Every person invited needs to be there for at least one of three contributions:
- They have unique information, data, or perspectives to share that serves the purpose of the meeting.
- They represent or have the authority to make the decisions needed in the meeting.
- They will likely be assigned actions based on the outcome of the meeting.
You’ll notice that each of these requires a clear goal or objective for the meeting, so as part of this solution it’s essential that all meetings have a clearly stated objective (more on this later).
2. Why Are We Here?
Many regularly scheduled meetings suffer from this malady; a team comes together out of habit, to share a one-way message, or because a leader or manager simply feels they should run meetings. This is all ‘busy work’ if there is no clear meeting objective and a reason to bring the team together.
Solution – Similar to the solution above, all meetings should be critiqued by the question, “Do we need a meeting to achieve this goal or outcome?” or better, “Could we achieve this goal without having a meeting?” If the answer is ‘yes’, then choose the alternative, often less costly, method of achieving the outcome.
3. Lack of Objective and Focus
Many meetings lack a clear focus or goal. Without this, meeting time gets filled with chit-chat, personal agendas, repeated conversations, and sometimes even degrade into whining sessions.
Solution – Anyone scheduling or calling a meeting must establish a meeting purpose and agenda. A great way to create focus is to finish the statement, “By the time we finish this meeting we will have … ” This statement should be sent out as part of the invitation as well as be stated at the outset of the meeting.
Secondly, someone in the meeting (chairperson, facilitator, or another attendee) should take responsibility for interjecting if the conversations move off the stated purpose. Some organizations have fun with this role by calling that person a ‘rabbit hunter’, the individual who keeps the conversations from going down ‘rabbit holes.’ A handy tool that the rabbit hunter can use is a parking lot or roster of topics that are not appropriate for the current meeting but do need to be addressed in some other way.
4. Inattention to Preparation
Often we will show up in meetings and the information we need to serve the purpose of the meeting is not available. For instance, if a team comes together to make decisions about the upcoming financial quarter and how to spend resources, it is necessary to have data from the past quarter.
As well, pre-work or pre-reading that is not completed by ALL attendees is a must. One person who does not complete the pre-work can undermine the entire group.
Solution – Anyone calling a meeting should include all preparation requirements, and specifically assign preparation activities to one or all attendees.
5. Poor Time Management
How often do your meetings start on time? It can be a common bad habit in organizations for meetings to start late, and if that precedent isn’t addressed it will become the norm. Tolerating this behavior makes it ‘ok’ for everyone.
Solution – Develop an agenda and delegate one person to be a timekeeper. This individual is given permission to keep an eye on the clock and flag others when the meeting begins, ends, and any intermediate agenda phases.
There should also be consequences. Something fun like a late fee of a loonie in the staff events jar goes a long way to ensure attention to start times.
It’s also helpful to avoid back-to-back meetings by leaving some amount of time between the ending of one meeting and the starting of another.
Running Effective Meetings In-Person and Virtually
During the global pandemic, many if not all of our meetings have moved online, and many employees are working from home. This comes with its own unique challenges for individuals and managers alike. For virtual meetings specifically, the temptation for attendees to disengage and become unfocussed is high.
That said, all of the obstacles and solutions mentioned above are valid and if applied with discipline will ensure that meetings run as effectively and productively as possible.
Note that much human communication is non-verbal, and even with virtual meeting tools like Zoom or Microsoft Teams, it’s difficult to pick up all the non-verbal cues. This may result in some communication taking longer than it would face-to-face, and strong listening skills will take a higher priority.
The Next Steps to Running Productive Meetings
Here at Results, our Business Execution Specialists are master facilitators, and hundreds of organizations rely on our team members to facilitate their most important meetings: annual and quarterly strategic planning, project planning, process improvement sessions, customer feedback panels, and so on.
If we can support you with meetings or other aspects of making your company successful, we’d love to hear from you. Reach out any time.