Facilitate a masterful meeting
A Cup of Ambition is a weekly newsletter filled with thought-provoking essays, interviews, links, and reflections on all things related to working parenthood. If you are here because someone shared this with you, I hope you’ll subscribe by clicking on the button below.
Take a look at your calendar. How many meetings do you have scheduled this week? It’s estimated that the average manager1 spends 12 hours each week in meetings—that’s approximately 600 hours each year. This number jumps to 23 hours a week for the average executive2. And, if you’re like the majority of workers3, you likely find all of these meetings to be distracting and excessive.
Unnecessary meetings are more than just an annoyance, they’re also an expense. There’s an opportunity cost associated with meetings—for every hour an employee spends in an unnecessary meeting, she’s missing an hour of fruitful work. (Take a look at this meeting cost calculator to get a sense of how much your least favorite meeting is costing your organization in lost productivity).
Of course, some meetings are necessary and potentially even highly impactful. A good meeting should be efficient, effective, and inclusive. To be efficient, meetings should start and end on time, stay on topic, and exclude extraneous people. An effective meeting:
brings a thoughtfully selected group of people together for a specific purpose, provides a forum for open discussion, and delivers a tangible result: a decision, a plan, a list of great ideas to pursue, a shared understanding of the work ahead. Not only that, but the result is then shared with others whose work may be affected4.
Inclusive meetings allow for roughly equal participation among attendees—there aren’t one or two voices dominating the conversation, and all participants feel that they can speak freely and their opinions are valued.
If you’re convening the meeting, assume that you’re the facilitator. It’s on you to set the frame, facilitate conversation, and assign action items. Below are some strategies and tips to keep in mind for running successful meetings.
Does this need to be a meeting?
Ask yourself whether a meeting is really the most effective and efficient way to address the issue at hand. Is the topic better suited for an email, a phone call, drop-by conversation, or IM? For example, status updates, project background and historical context should all be discussed in an email or memo ahead of a meeting. Also consider whether a large group meeting is really necessary. In some cases, six ten-minute individual meetings may accomplish more than one hour long meeting with all six people present.
Meeting quality declines as the attendee list increases—this is particularly true with virtual meetings. Participants will be more engaged if they feel that their role in the meeting is important. It’s easy to feel redundant if there are several other people representing your team/perspective. Jeff Bezos famously abides by the “two pizza rule”. If you can’t feed everyone in the meeting with two pizzas, you’ve invited too many people.
At the same time, you want to represent diverse perspective and avoid “groupthink”. Look at your invite list—is there a diversity of identity and thought represented? If not, look to substitute or add participants to ensure various perspectives are represented.
Make sure you allot the right amount of time based on your objectives. If you try to cram too much into a short meeting, you will inevitably run over and may lose important participants who can’t stay late. If you schedule a meeting that’s too long, people will disengage.
To maximize attendee engagement, be respectful of their scheduling priorities. For many working parents, the ideal window for important meetings is during the time they are most likely to have childcare (roughly 9:30-2:30). Make it a point to avoid early morning or evening meetings unless it’s an emergency. Lunch meetings are better suited for a seminar or presentation style meeting where attendees are passive participants.
Importance of the “pre-read”
As stated above, reviewing background information in a meeting is a waste of time. Instead, circulate pre-reading material to maximize the opportunity for fruitful conversation during the meeting itself. If this is the first time you’re instituting pre-reading, make sure you set a clear expectation that attendees come prepared, with the materials read.
Make an agenda
Circulate an agenda before the meeting, ideally with your pre-reading material. Your agenda is your roadmap—without it, you’re likely to meander and get lost. Here are some sample agendas for various kinds of meetings. Agendas also have the added benefit of giving introverts and others who may feel more marginalized additional time to prepare, which will hopefully lead to a better discussion.
It’s important to begin by setting the tone and defining objectives. If you’re hosting a non-recurring meeting, establish the following items within the first few minutes: the goal of the meeting, the time allotted for the meeting, who the participants are, and why they’re present. If you’re hosting a recurring meeting, briefly summarize last week’s minutes and clarify the goal for today’s meeting.
Cultivate robust discussion
Set clear expectations for group participation. Let attendees know that you expect active engagement—asking them to refrain from using their computers/phone during the meeting is a good start. Make sure to establish rules for respectful engagement, including being mindful of airspace and nonverbal communication.
The best conversations take place within the context of psychological safety. I’m planning on writing an entire newsletter devoted to this topic in the future, but in a nutshell, psychological safety at work refers to “a shared belief that the team is safe for interpersonal risk-taking5.” For a primer, watch this video.
Don’t sacrifice process for product
Yes, efficiency is important, but it is less important than ensuring that people feel valued and heard. Scan the room before moving on to the next agenda item. If an issue seems unresolved, don’t plow forward. Instead, take the time to clarify any lingering questions and explore resistance. It will end up saving you time in the long-run.
End with an action plan
Make sure you schedule 5 minutes at the end of every meeting to clarify takeaways and assign next steps. For each follow up item, decide who is responsible and the timeline by which they should complete it. Circulate the action plan by email afterwards so that everyone is on the same page.
Ask for feedback
Want to make sure people find your meetings useful? Ask them. Send a brief survey and solicit feedback about what’s working well and what could be improved. And then, most importantly, integrate their suggestions.
I want to cover what’s important to YOU. I welcome reader input in deciding what and who to write about. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and put “newsletter idea” in the subject.
https://bookshop.org/books/the-surprising-science-of-meetings-how-you-can-lead-your-team-to-peak-performance/9780190689216 (this is an affiliate link)