meeting mistakes

Meetings can be pretty great. There. We said it. Despite the bad reputation that meetings are sometimes given (“a colossal waste of time”, “the most unproductive hours of the day”, “highly inconvenient”) they are in fact a simple and effective way to increase team interaction, to explore open discussion, share valuable information and a way to motivate, inspire and strategise.

The reason that poor old meetings get a bit of a hard time is largely due to a few rookie mistakes that can easily be avoided:

1) Mismanaging timings

Want to run an effective, efficient and interesting meeting? Then don’t do it just before, during, or just after lunch. Before lunch people are hungry and the only thing they’re thinking about right now is food. It’s pretty hard to focus when everyone has sandwiches on the brain. Similarly, during lunch break, this food-fantasizing is only strengthened. Post lunch, you have the come-down period of digestion whereby all your energy is being used elsewhere and you’re in no position to pay any attention, let alone contribute anything remotely meaningful.

In the same vein, don’t start late and don’t finish late. People will be much happier going to a meeting and will participate more fully if they know their time will be respected. Ending late is also a waste of time as, frankly, most participants have already checked out once the clock begins ticking past the time allotted; now their only focus is when this will meeting end and how to politely excuse themselves…

2) Going off course

Your colleagues love your sense of disorganization and off-the-cuff, haphazard thoughts on philosophical issues…

No. No, they really don’t. Every meeting, no matter how small, should really have an agenda.  A simple agenda helps set expectations, keeps timings on track, and ensures that meeting missions don’t fall by the wayside. It also means that participants can prepare beforehand, so time isn’t lost while people read or catch up during the meeting itself.

People will also hijack an agenda-less meeting. There’s the likelihood that impatient participants will whisper in side conversations and you risk having to deal with side-meetings that are completely irrelevant to the meeting’s main subject. In light of this, make sure as a meeting leader you also stick to the task in hand. This means not filling the agenda with smaller items. Just because you have people together, don’t risk the temptation to tick off smaller, less important points.

Similarly, don’t include teambuilding exercises when teambuilding isn’t the point – are you really going to have a productive meeting outcome if you’ve spent the first 20minutes getting people to throw a ball round and introduce themselves?  Skip the exercises.  Get down to business instead. Great teams become great teams when they produce great results.

3) Cut out the jargon

By asking when the turkey is going to get basted, who’s on board, if we can “reach out” to other people and signing off with “great meeting guys, now let’s all hit the ground running and we’ll touch base next week” is just asking for a roll-eye from participants. People engage with simple, strategy-focused speak that is geared towards a positive outcome. Don’t “beat around the bush” with the points you’re trying to make. You may have heard it on Mad Men, it’s more likely you heard it on The Office – either way, it’s outdated, overused and often doesn’t even make sense.

4) Aesthetics and logistics

Aesthetics are actually very important for a successful meeting. Firstly, don’t let the venue overwhelm the occasion. Whilst fancy venues can be cool and fun they’re also very distracting. A “creative” location will not always automatically inspire a team to greater creativity and certainly, productivity can often suffer as people marvel at the new surroundings.

Do ensure comfort, convenience and efficiency in a location that suits all parties (where possible). Water is great, a full-on feast is just another distraction. Larger meeting expenses do not correlate to better meeting outcomes.

Logistically, there is almost always an inverse relationship between the number of participants and the value of a meeting. If you need to make major decisions then more than ten participants is usually an error. Invite the right people to the right meetings and if necessary, seek input beforehand from others whose presence is less mandatory.

5) Get an outcome, make a decision

The biggest mistake when it comes to meetings is ending with unclear action items. Summarise the points discussed and ensure everyone understands what has been decided and what actions are to be taken and – vitally – who has responsibility for each point. Write this all down too, and circulate to remind people what they have been allocated.

Your goal in most meetings is to collect enough information to either make a decision that has majority support, get a consensus on a course of action, or to take a vote. Meetings allow issues to be defined and then dealt with – so make sure you define your agenda points, encourage brainstorming, synthesize the conversation, narrow the options and then call for a decision, or make one yourself. Don’t leave a meeting with participants more confused and considering even more options than when they started. That’s not a meeting that anyone wants to attend.

Of course, there are the mistakes to avoid that should go without saying; don’t doodle, don’t yawn, don’t refer to your phone every other minute and don’t reflect sunlight into everyone’s eyes off your watch face. No one likes that guy. No one.

Keep it simple, professional and as short as possible to ensure that time isn’t wasted, decisions are made and that you don’t need ANOTHER meeting to discuss the one you’ve just had…

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