How to Achieve Effective Meetings
Meetings: virtual, face-to-face, groups, one-on-one, clients, colleagues…. With whomever and in whichever setting, they take up a significant proportion of our working time. And yet, do you feel like each and every meeting was a truly valuable use of your precious time? In this article, we wanted to explore the research behind what makes an effective meeting so that you don’t have to. Below, we have highlighted the most vital steps you can take to get the best out of your meetings.
There is clearly not one solution for all meetings in all work settings but, with time such a precious resource, we hope these tips will support you in running effective meetings.
Step 1: Prepare a Compelling Plan
‘Failing to prepare is preparing to fail’ – Benjamin Franklin
Ahead of a meeting, most of us will prepare in some way for the occasion. Whether this is setting an agenda, highlighting topics or buying the croissants – yes, at MWA, our Monday meeting is accompanied by a selection of baked goods. What started as a one person’s hope to incorporate a mid-morning snack into the meeting, has actually resulted in a unified approach, providing encouragement and excitement for the weekly meeting – there is even research to support the effectiveness of snacks in meetings. Clearly, however, preparation is more than providing fresh pain-au-chocolat for the team.
Agendas are great and can provide structure for meetings, keeping things on task. They are, however, something that can get forgotten and can be underutilized during the actual meeting. Research suggests structuring your agenda with questions rather than topics. Could it be that having questions makes people more inclined to intrinsically and subconsciously engage, in the hope of discovering solutions? Or, could it be that people feel compelled to prepare an answer? Whichever, open questions can really support a meeting, providing direction and a plan to utilize your time efficiently.
Step 2: Interact and Collaborate
Meetings where participants are expected simply listen, without any active engagement, are very limiting. People switch off, daydream and disengage from the present. During any meeting, we are taking on information and learning. Active learning (rather than passive listening) yields far greater results. So, find opportunities for collaboration. If this doesn’t come natural, then prepare prompts. The questions you prepared prior to the meeting are a great guide. From the start, they initiate interaction – try also having backup questions to probe deeper into these, or support discussion if nobody else wants to initiate it.
Importantly, encourage positive feedback, discussion and challenge and, make this known. If people are hesitant to speak up, let me know this is ok, it’s actually what you want.
Step 3: End with Action
This is a vital part of any meeting. Action – be this assigning duties, setting timelines, determining feedback or responsibilities. Action is where the meeting will truly have an effect. It is important to have somebody who can record the targets, next steps and responsibilities; then, share these with the team. A record also helps to keep things on task after a meeting, and provides an opportunity for reflection, which brings us onto our final point…
Step 4: Reflect
As with anything, self-observation and reflection allow us to continuously improve. When a meeting is finished, spend a minute mentally feeding back to yourself. Time is precious but if you have a minute to think about what went well and what really did not – and importantly, note this – then it could save you valuable time in the future. It’s very easy to move onto the next task, next meeting even, but this reflection is important. It could even be scheduled – extend your meeting allocation time by five minutes to allow for it. Reflection also gives you, or the allocated person, time to condense notes and share these among the team.
Once you’ve reflected, whether this is a mental conversation or just a feeling, don’t forget the most important part: do something about it. Identify changes for future meetings, acknowledge participation from your team or set a reminder to buy more croissants for next time… whatever the iterations may be, implement them for next time.
To read more about any of the research in this article then please follow these reference links: