The convenor holds accountability for clearly defining the agenda of a meeting drilled down to the discussion points
Have clear output expectations before blocking a dozen of your senior managers in a room for two hours
Five self-discipline principles for the convenor and the participants of a meeting to ensure that the time invested bears desired fruit
Modern day complexities of conducting business have increased the reliance on active collaboration between executives and teams. The need for active collaboration has consequently increased the reliance on meetings. Any professional’s typical working day is characterised by a mix of individual desk activities and collaborative efforts through meetings.
While meetings have become a part and parcel of our professional lives, there is also no denying the fact that they’re not a favourite among most professionals. Besides considering meetings as one of the biggest impediments to employee productivity, many workforce surveys conducted by firms such as Hewitt, Mercer and the Corporate Leadership Council across the years reveal that employees across the globe say meetings are a waste of time.
Recruitment consulting firm Robert Half conducted a global survey in 2009 on the workforce’s perceptions about meetings. The results reveal that the key reason why employees say that meetings are a waste of time is because participants lose focus and discuss anything they want, rather than the issue the meeting was called for.
Research indicates that in order to make meetings count, there are five self-discipline principles that the convenor and participants of a meeting should abide by to ensure that meetings are productive and the investment of time bears desired results. The five are:
Script a well-defined agenda
Most participants in workforce surveys note that the most common cause of meetings falling off the track is the lack of a defined meeting agenda. The convenor holds accountability for clearly defining the agenda of a meeting drilled down to the discussion points. Career consultant and prolific blogger Penelope Trunk, writes in her article that “calling a meeting without a defined agenda is as good as not having one.”
Have realistic output expectations
Many enter a meeting room expecting a monumental shift to happen in the business and operating environment at the end of the meeting. Experts recommend that along with a clear definition of the agenda, it is also necessary that the convenor and participants have a very clear understanding of what output is expected from the meeting. Having output expectations that are too aspirational may lead to unnecessary delays and stress. How often do we see people streaming out of meetings red-faced and flustered because the end-time stretched by hours? Craig Jarrow, author and business consultant, writes in his article that “meetings cost money and it is important to have clear output expectations before blocking a dozen of your senior managers in a room for two hours.”
Clearly communicate a start-time and end-time and stick to it
A meeting involves multiple participants who have different responsibilities and widely-varied personal and professional preferences. It is unfair to expect that all participants will be comfortable sparing the extra hour without upsetting his/her personal and professional obligations. It is the convenor’s responsibility to communicate a start and an end-time to a meeting and assign a timekeeper. An article published by the Human Resources magazine highlights the importance of communicating the start and end times so that the group is better prepared with their arguments and discussion points. Communicating the start and end times gives the participants a good sense to the participants of how to prepare for the remainder of the day, and also how to prepare their participation better, be it a presentation or a discussion that s/he has to make.
Ensure minimal distractions
A typical meeting is characterised by several participants taking phone calls and writing and responding to e-mails on their laptops. These distract other participants and many lose focus. Jarrow mentions that as a rule, many organisations have started convening “topless meetings” where laptops are banned and a phone bowl is placed at the door for participants to drop their phones while entering the meeting.
It is important to assign one designated participant to take meeting notes and circulate it among all the participants after the meeting concludes. The convenor should share the original plan and meeting agenda with the note-taker and read and verify the minutes of the meeting before they’re sent out.
While there is no debating the importance of meetings in a modern day business environment, it is important that both the convenor and participants have a clear agenda and prepare themselves in advance so that meetings do not spill over time, lose focus, or end up with outputs that are not aligned with the expectations of the group.