Top tips to making your meetings more meaningful and ending the mindless meeting mania

BE-X Rebecca Craig Coach organisational leadership | Blog Top Tips
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Top tips to making your meetings more meaningful and ending the mindless meeting mania

Do you feel like you’re week is filled with internal meeting after meeting? Do you notice a requirement to join endless back-to-back zoom calls? Or feel as though you can’t actually get your work done as your days are just full of virtual catch ups?

It seems in our remote working climate we have not only had to adjust to not going into work but suddenly sitting in front of our computer dialed into never-ending conference calls in an attempt for leaders to maintain ‘face-time’.

As Covid-19 has dramatically shifted the corporate workplace into the cloud, many managers are struggling to find ways to stay ‘connected’ with their employees. For those who previously preferred to be able to oversee each and every output of their staff, the inability to physically check-in has presented a challenge. And it seems like the simple solve that many have come up with has been to increase the volume of internal meetings dramatically.

However, the truth is when you’re in a meeting, you’re not actually working.

In his TED talk called “The Economic Impact of Bad Meetings”  David Grady talks about what he calls the “Mindless Accept Syndrome” wherein people today mindlessly accept invites they get for meetings without knowing what the meeting is about, why they were invited or even the goal of the meeting. He goes on to state that there are around three billion meetings every year of which 50% are felt to be unproductive. That’s a whole lot of unproductive time!!

And not only is it unproductive, according to a 2012 Virginia Tech study, meetings actually make people dumber. This study found that when individuals are placed into a group setting there is a dramatic decrease in their cognitive capacity and their individual IQs drop by an average of 15%. According to this paper, the reason for this has a lot to do with people lacking confidence to contribute. This is one reason why creating a culture where people feel they can voice their opinion and be heard is so crucial and to avoid the potential for groupthink.

None-the-less there may still be times when you need to set up a meeting and bring groups of individuals together. If that is the case there are some really simple ways to make meetings more effective both for the person hosting and also for the people you ask to give you their most precious resource – their time!

Here are some simple tips to drive more effective meetings:

1. Get the right people in the room – This one is simple but you need to think about who are the stakeholders that will be critical to the success of the meeting and for the decision you need to make as a result. Really challenge yourself to consider the role that each individual will play and what the ROI of their time will be (as in how crucial is it for them to join). Really take time to consider if a meeting is what is required or would an email suffice or simply a phone call with one other person?

2. Send an agenda in advance & send any pre-reads – Once you’ve determined who needs to be there the next step is to ensure they (and you!) know why you need them there, what their role in the meeting is and ensure they have the information they need in advance to help them drive a mutually-beneficial outcome. This means sharing the agenda, the purpose of the meeting and any pre-reads that give context or will help with decision-making. This is particularly important for those team members who are more introverted as they will thrive better and make their best contribution in a meeting context when they’ve had the chance to review, analyse and consider their thoughts on a given topic.

3. Set & connect – When you’re actually kicking off the meeting this is perhaps one of the simplest techniques you can use but is very effective:

  • Set is about setting an agenda, sharing it in advance for feedback and reiterating it at the start of the meeting. It goes something like this “I called the meeting today to discuss XYZ, a successful outcome to the meeting would be to agree on ABC – does anyone have anything else they’d like to add to the agenda / is this aligned to what people were expecting? Lastly, I put an hour in our diaries – does that time still suit / do we have a hard stop on the hour or what are people’s time commitments” – simple but critical to get it set up right from the start.

  • Connect is all about the human element of when you’re getting the meeting going. This is about connecting with people on a personal level, establishing trust & credibility – how are they? What’s been keeping them up at night? Sometimes we overlook the simple fact that we’re working with people & human emotions.

4. Focus on the discussion & ditch the deck – in a digital, remote setting it is incredibly difficult to hold people’s focus. There are already so many things that can distract us when we’re not sitting face-to-face with someone. One of the quickest ways to lose attention would be to read off page after page of a Powerpoint presentation. Now, of course it should go without saying, there is a time and a place for beautifully crafted and detailed slides, but, more often than not these can be pre-reads to get everyone on the same page and then the content (or data) can drive a conversation instead of be the conversation. As Steve Jobs said “people who know what they’re talking about don’t need Powerpoint.” For an effective meeting, the person who set it up should ensure that the discussion centres around the agenda & objectives you set. If at any point you feel the conversation is veering off course or if you notice someone is dominating, it’s your job (as the meeting organiser) to bring it back to the objectives.

5. Ensure you’re hosting an inclusive meeting where all views are heard – As you facilitate the conversation be mindful of which voices are being heard and notice when people aren’t saying much. There are endless studies pointing to groups of individuals who will generally find it difficult to contribute in a group setting. And this is perhaps even more pronounced in a virtual environment. As the meeting owner, it is your job to ensure all perspectives are heard and to facilitate a discussion where cognitive diversity is embraced.

6. Take notes, drive actions & follow up – Finally, and importantly, it’s crucial to finish the meeting with a brief summary of what was discussed highlighting any follow ups or actions items that will need to be taken and by whom. This way you can be sure that everyone leaves on the same page. A quick way to reinforce this is to follow up with an email highlighting the notes from the meeting, what tasks were outlined & who is responsible for what.

If you can follow these simple steps when you lead your own meetings and demand this of others, you will find you set in motion action from those around you resulting in far more effective meetings from here on in.

Ask your team to identify their biggest productivity killer and inevitably two issues will rise to the top of the list: managing their inboxes and their meeting schedules.” – Jeff Weiner

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