There are a few simple principals that if consistently observed tend to lead to a more productive use of time for all meeting attendees.
These serve an important role in an effective meeting. Not only do they help to define what will be discussed during the meeting but they can also help limit the extraneous topics that can either elongate or take meetings completely off course. The best agendas will outline discussion topics, provide a time frame for each topic and help attendees understand if there is background information they need to review before the meeting.
This idea is frequently overlooked. As an example, how many of us have been to lunch meetings which suffer from frequent distractions. While there are certainly occasions that are perfectly appropriate for this type of setting, if you have serious business and multiple topics to discuss, a more formal environment is probably a better choice.
Meetings are frequently conducted via several different means. Examples are conference calls, in person or via video conferencing. Conference calls seem to be the most prevalent, particularly when you have multiple resources in different locations. We at PEI are strong advocates of Microsoft Lync. A key feature of Microsoft Lync is the ability to hold reliable and robust video conferences. While the importance of face to face meetings shouldn’t be discounted, the inclusion of video conferencing in a meeting adds a lot. Instead of just listing to a conference call, you can actually see the folks you are working with. It allows meeting attendees to pick up on visual cues and body language which can be as important as the actual discussion itself.
3. Everybody “Attends”:
Participation is key. The attendees have been invited to the meeting for a specific purpose. It’s pretty unrealistic to enforce such rules as no cell phones, etc. except in meetings of the most formal nature, however; attempting to ensure all attendees are actively engaged produces better results. In my experience, asking questions of attendees helps keep folks focused. We have all probably experienced the dynamic of finishing our meeting, establishing our conclusions / action items and then hearing “water cooler” conversation about how the consensus that was just agreed to in the meeting is incorrect. We should make significant effort to ensure we draw out of our attendees all viewpoints during the meeting so they can be discussed and addressed. In most cases people just want to be heard. Time should be taken to discuss viewpoints that may not be in line with the final conclusion. In most cases, people are far more likely to support the final conclusion if their idea is discussed and logical reasoning is provided as to why it may not be the best approach in a given situation.
4. Meeting Results:
In most cases the documentation of conclusions and action items should be captured. This serves an important purpose. It serves as a reminder of any conclusions or decisions made during the meeting which can help to keep the same topic from being discussed repeatedly during subsequent meetings. Secondly, it provides meeting attendees a clearly defined list of items that either need to be accomplished by the team as a whole or on an individual basis. The most effective action item lists include what is to be accomplished, the responsible resource and the timeframe for completion of the assigned task. At times, particularly during disjointed or extremely technical conversations it can be quite difficult for the person responsible for capturing the results to accurately capture the results, notes and sometimes action items. It can sometimes feel as though that person is slowing the meeting down by calling a “time out” and asking for clarification but it’s important to do so if there is lack of clarity.
Most of the ideas outlined above are pretty common sense concepts. In my experience when these principals aren’t followed it’s because team may feel that a less formal meeting methodology will serve their purpose. While in the case of a small meeting with perhaps one or two minor topics this may be the case, more often than not, following these simple principals usually produces more effective results.
Dan Thompson, PEI