Moaning about unproductive meetings doesn’t help. Taking action to improve them is a better use of your energy.
Unless your name fills the org chart’s top box, you’ll need to convince that person to establish these five meeting rules for 2016. These aren’t hard to follow. The challenge is remembering they are important.
1. Meetings Must End at Least 10 Minutes Before the Top of the Hour
When meeting participants show up late, your meeting starts badly. It’s possible they are just natural latecomers, but it’s just as likely they got caught up in a meeting that ran right to the top of the hour.
Think about it. Meetings are typically scheduled for one hour, beginning on the hour. Busy managers book back-to-back meetings. When they do, there is no time for travel and if the previous meeting lasts the full hour, they will be late for the next.
There’s no rule that says a one hour meeting must last the full hour. The problem is that they typically do. So make a rule that meetings starting on the hour must conclude no later than 50 minutes past the hour. This creates a buffer people can use to visit a rest room and travel to their next meeting.
2. Meetings Must Have a Written Purpose Statement
You’re meeting for a reason, right? This rules requires people who call meetings to include a purpose statement in the meeting invite. My purpose statements include two critical elements:
- Why we are meeting
- What we will produce
You can help reinforce this rule. If you receive an invite without a clear purpose, ask the person calling the meeting what the purpose is and what she expects the group to produce. If she can’t or won’t offer this simple information, you should politely decline the invitation.
3. Meeting Results Must be Documented and Distributed within One Business Day
I’ve always believed that if what happens in a meeting isn’t written down, it didn’t really happen. And if it didn’t happen, it isn’t likely to produce any meaningful results.
When scheduling a meeting, assign someone to take notes. Give him advance warning in case he prefers to use a laptop to do the notes. Instruct him to capture key ideas, decisions, and action items.
This doesn’t have to be a big deal. 90% of the task can be done at the the conclusion of the meeting. For most meetings, another 10-20 minutes of editing should get the notes in great shape. Send them to everyone who participated and anyone else who asked to be copied.
4. Meetings Must Have a Clear Leader
When the boss calls a meeting, it’s commonly understood the boss will lead that meeting. When a peer convenes coworkers to discuss an issue, it’s a lot less clear.
Here’s the rule you should establish. The person who calls the meeting is the meeting’s leader. If someone else will be leading or if there is any ambiguity, a meeting’s first action will be to appoint a chair.
There’s nothing more painful than a meeting that doesn’t move along because no one feels sure about who’s responsibility it is to move it along.
5. Meeting Conversations Must Have a Conclusion
Meetings are a series of conversations. I’m good with that as long as those conversations eventually produce something of value. That might be a decision, plan, ideas, clarity, new skills or whatever results you wanted from the conversation.
What’s not okay is starting a conversation and not bringing it to a clear end before moving on to another topic. That’s a gigantic time waster and a big source of meeting frustration.
Of the five rules I’ve suggested, this one is the most challenging. You have to pay enough attention to realize that the topic has just changed and then have the courage to say, “Hold up a minute. We need to finish that last conversation before moving on to the next item.”
2016 Is the Year You Change Your Meeting Culture
There’s a lot you can and should do to improve meetings. These five simple rules are a terrific place to begin. Your organization’s leaders need to announce them and everyone needs to enforce them.
If you want to go further, consider giving the people who run a lot of meetings in your organization facilitation training. I’ve delivered successful sessions for 25 years now. I’d be happy to schedule something with your group early in 2016.
Here’s to a year of productive meetings.