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Effective Meetings: Why Most Meetings are a Waste of Time
Whether your business holds one meeting a week or dozens of meetings a day, it’s critical that that time is used effectively and efficiently. Most meetings are less effective than they could be not because they are poorly run, but because meeting organizers spend all their time focusing on the hour or two when people will be together. around the conference table or video screen. Smart meeting managers know that it’s the actions you take during the three days immediately leading up to the meeting that are far more important than the meeting itself.
When your meeting starts
The key to your meeting’s success is starting well before your meeting’s scheduled start time. Just as any athlete knows the importance of stretching before exercising, high-level meeting managers know that how you spend your time the week before a meeting is just as important, if not more so. important than the time of the meeting itself.
Common signs that a manager has spent too much time focusing on the meeting itself and not enough time on the activity leading up to the meeting include people coming to your meetings unprepared, a few people suggesting many ideas and a constant pattern of rushing the items at the bottom of your agenda.
Roger Burns, a 30-year veteran of high-level meetings, describes it this way: “A lot of times the first 20 or 30 minutes of our meetings were people going through the documents I sent them a week ago. hadn’t prepared and I had no idea what questions I was going to ask in the next few minutes.”
If you’re like many, these symptoms appear more often than not. So what should a meeting manager do? How do you avoid these common pitfalls? The answer is simple, but it starts a full week before the meeting is scheduled to start.
The three Ps of a successful meeting: preparation, participation, prioritization
Although a successful meeting requires a skilled facilitator, that’s only part of the puzzle. Equally important is the activity that took place before the meeting.
The first P: Preparation
Effective use of your meeting time relies on preparing all parties to participate. This means that everyone present has already read the meeting materials before the meeting takes place. In addition to this, meeting attendees should receive the issues that are going to be discussed prior to the meeting.
Historically, most meetings begin with the chair asking a question of those present. For example, if you were holding a strategic planning meeting, a good question might be, “What do you think are the strengths of our organization?” At this point, the discussion moves around the table, with each person having two minutes to process the questions, come up with a solution that sounds good, and voice the solution coherently to the group.
The problem with this method is that most good ideas don’t come in those two minutes. Good ideas come when you’re driving to work, when you’re falling asleep, when you’re in the shower – the times when you’re probably not with your colleagues in a meeting. (Unless you regularly hold your meetings in the company locker room!) Giving the questions you are going to ask each meeting attendee before the meeting is key to getting the best ideas from your attendees. It also gives them a reason to read the materials you distributed before the meeting.
The best time to distribute materials and questions is three to seven days before your meeting. It gives participants a chance to reflect on issues and questions, but not long enough to forget about their good ideas and why they liked them. The recovery here is quick and obvious. You will get more results in less time, saving you money and allowing you to implement your ideas faster.
The second P: Participation
Getting the best ideas from your best people is essential for your meeting to be successful. The other half of this equation is getting a broad base of participation so that there is ownership of the solution rather than resentment.
If these two elements are so important to successful meetings, why is it so rare that they happen simultaneously? The first reason why this rarely happens is that your best ideas are often your busiest people. Most of the time, those high-value people who are like popcorn machines full of ideas are already scheduled for other meetings when you choose your meeting times. While it is sometimes possible to reschedule your appointment depending on their availability, it is impossible to adapt to every time and every need.
The second reason you rarely get your best idea for people to participate and have a broad base of ownership at the same time has to do with the dynamics within meetings. Each person in your organization is wired differently and for every person who is comfortable voicing and defending ideas in a meeting, there are others who lack this gift. For those who are good at verbal maneuvers, gaining support in a meeting is like a sport. For those who feel less comfortable in this environment, defending a position can feel like torture. It is clear that a place is needed to allow everyone to participate in the solution in a way that is non-threatening, democratic and that builds ownership directly into the process.
Don’t underestimate the value of this increased participation. Ideas, initiatives and even guidelines deemed to have broad support are implemented faster and with a higher level of quality. On top of that, you get better insights when more people participate – especially when the people who participate are closest to the action and not those incubated in their executive offices. All of this helps you innovate faster than the competition, get your ideas to market faster, and win the battle for consistent quality.
The Third P: Prioritization
In a perfect world, we would have unlimited time each day to do everything. Unfortunately, we live to the rhythm of the clock every day. Too often our meetings are filled with agenda items placed there in the order in which they appeared on our desk or in the order in which we jotted them down on a yellow sticky note on the phone, with no level important or urgent.
The best meeting managers understand that not all items on an agenda deserve equal weight, and they prioritize issues first. This frees up your best minutes for your most important things.
Unfortunately, the leader’s priorities are not always the team’s priorities. It often happens that rank and file members have a burning issue that has completely eluded management. Effective meeting leaders have a system in place to identify and resolve these issues.
The benefit of having such a system in place is increased productivity in your most vital areas. By focusing everyone’s attention on the issues most important to your success, you will quickly see a decrease in non-value added activity and an increased return on your efforts.
A new set of tools
Now that we’ve moved from the hour-long meeting to the full week before a meeting, a whole new set of tools should be added to your toolbox.
There are a host of tools already present and taken into account to help you in the actual meeting: from flip charts to electronic whiteboards, from video conferencing to the latest collaboration software allowing a group of people to edit a document from locations around the world, companies have kept up to date with a variety of online meeting solutions.
A new tool for this market sector is ehuddle. Ehuddle is an internet tool used by businesses before and after meetings to increase meeting efficiency. Initiated with a simple email to meeting attendees, ehuddle allows everyone who is invited to the meeting to see the questions that are going to be asked, brainstorm possible answers, and evaluate a list of possible solutions. All of these activities take place in the days leading up to the meeting, ensuring that participants are prepared for the meeting – having already thought through the important issues and assessed each other’s possible solutions.
Ehuddle uses a proprietary, anonymous and democratic online format. This not only allows members of your committee who were unable to attend the meeting to provide input, but it also creates an environment where no one is afraid to suggest ideas. Ownership is built into the process because everyone has participated in the evaluation of each solution.
Smart meeting managers even use tools like ehuddle to set some of the agenda. By allowing grassroots members of any group to brainstorm and rank the issues that are important to them, the agenda automatically reflects the needs of the organization.
The return on investment for tools like ehuddle is quickly realized. Managers recognize the money lost in unoptimized meetings, low attendance levels, and distracted activities. Add to that the increased productivity, faster problem identification and resolution, and faster time to market that the tool brings and you’ll quickly see that it’s money well spent.
Using this comprehensive set of tools before a meeting allows the leader to walk into the conference room or videoconference confident that the foundation has been laid for a successful meeting.
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