Meaningful Meetings

Wednesday 22nd April 2020 Dave Sharp Start Ups!

In the past few days I've been to several meetings, which have had a variety of outcomes for me. What never ceases to amaze me is the random and haphazard way some people approach attending a meeting with little or no contemplation on how they get a return on the time and effort they invest into attending.

There are a number of reasons why I might want to attend a meeting:

  • I will be in a position to sell my services to a client.

  • I have something that I need to communicate face to face to one or more people I am actively working with.

  • I stand to learn something that is useful to me.

  • I will meet new people and expand my network, something which I rely on heavily.

As with most things in life there is another side to this, here are the reasons why I don't want to attend meetings:

  • To make up the numbers and make the meeting to be seen to be more significant.

  • To go over things that can be dealt with via other methods such as email.

  • To turn up for the Monday meeting because its Monday and we always have a meeting on a Monday.

  • Where there is no established agenda or specific topic for discussion that I recognise as being relevant to me and what I do.

Having worked in large corporate environments such as Virgin and Viacom I recognise the "meeting culture" when I see it. Conversely with start-ups they fail to recognise that some meetings are just necessary, they then fail to communicate anything on any significant level.

Here are some personal tips on meetings, both if your attending one or organising one.

Attending a meeting

  • Ask the person inviting you to the meeting what relevance the meeting has to you (if its not obvious) and what role they are expecting you to play (expert advice, facilitator etc.)

  • Ask the person inviting you for some kind of agenda for the meeting, just as bullet points.

  • Ask the person organising the meeting if they expect to be making a decision in that meeting and if so on what?

  • Ask the person what the expected duration of the meeting will be and ask them to cap it at that.

  • Ask the person organising to give you a list of the other attendees so you can do some research on people if you're meeting them for the first time.

Once you have this information you're in a position to do make some decisions. You might decide that your attendance isn't necessary, saving you the time. You might decide that you are only needed for part of the meeting. You might conclude that there is a person missing from the attendees that you feel should be there or that in fact the meeting is "too big" and should be broken down into smaller fractions - giving a better chance of a positive outcome.

Organising a meeting

When inviting people, send all the information they need to make a proper decision (time, date, location, directions, agenda, attendees)

  • Ask attendees to feedback to you before the meeting on anything they think is missing from the agenda or anyone missing from the attendee list.

  • Take minutes of any meeting that has more than 3 people attending and circulate them after the meeting.

  • Stick to the time frame for the meeting. Go through the agenda once quickly to establish with everyone what items on the agenda need more time/effort. Don't get bogged down on the early points to the extent that later points are dealt with in 2 minutes to meet the time constraints.

  • Don't organise meetings on the basis that its a recurring meeting based on time. Monday morning meetings should only take place on the basis that its Monday and there is genuinely something that needs discussing. Don't let meetings become rituals.

  • Keep the meeting focused on the topics in the agenda, other subjects that arise should be dealt with on a different day on a different basis.

  • Don't let people attending just drift through the meeting without contributing, if they have nothing to add, say or contend then they probably shouldn't have been there. Meetings where half the attendees are passengers tend to be fairly pointless.

Meeting Follow-On

You can have a lot of organised and relevant meetings but if the follow-on from the meeting is not as managed as the meeting itself then the value of the meeting is completely lost. Meeting minutes establish who agreed to what and any criteria to those actions. If the minutes are circulated then there is a universal record of those actions. If you organised the meeting then you must put time aside to check and ensure that the actions that the meeting generated are delivered. Too many meetings end with people having made agreements on tasks and activities that then are not delivered - essentially negating the whole process and rendering zero value for everyone concerned.

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