In today's fast-paced business world, time is a precious commodity. Yet, many of us still find ourselves stuck in meetings that seem to go nowhere, wasting our resources. Research by Steven G. Rogelberg, Chancellor's Professor at the University of North Carolina, shows that some 90% of people report daydreaming in meetings, and 73% admit to multitasking during them. This is a clear indication that something needs to change.
In this article, we will explore the core values and principles of a mature meeting organization. We will provide you with tools to ensure that you are making the most of your time, and delve into the dos and don'ts of running and attending meetings. By following these advice, you will be able to transform your meetings from frustrating time-wasters to productive and engaging sessions.
We won't cover digital tools that can help you achieve your meeting goals, since there are many tools available and this area is constantly evolving. Instead, we'll focus on the core principles of running meetings in a mature organization. So, let's get started on your journey to better, more effective meetings.
Meetings Should Never be a Waste of Time
Meetings can be an effective tool for quickly addressing issues and establishing next steps and action points. However, a poorly run meeting can result in wasted time, frustration, and disengagement among participants. To ensure that your meetings are productive and engaging, it's important to follow a few key principles.
First and foremost, don't schedule meetings that lack structure, organization, or purpose. These are often referred to as "shitty meetings." They may have the wrong timeslot, a vague or nonexistent subject, no agenda or details in the body, or too many or wrong people invited. Sometimes, they are recurring and too frequent.
Second, avoid running meetings without proper moderation, agenda, or time management. Participants should be prepared, and avoid surprise PowerPoints with all the text being read word for word by the author. The subject should be presented and discussed, and documentation should be circulated prior to the meeting.
Adopt Core Values
Respect People’s Time
Meetings are not free. They require time and focus, which are your team's most valuable resources. Good meetings are planned in a way that respects both your colleagues and their time. Only the people who need to be there should attend. Nothing is worse than being stuck in a meeting where you are adding little value.
Additionally, meetings should not go longer than necessary. When topics become specific to only a few attendees, those points should be taken out of the meeting so that everyone in attendance is concerned, and everyone's time is respected.
The golden rule of every meeting is: the less, the better. Fewer people and less time are ideal, or rather, the appropriate amount of time with the appropriate people.
Inviting certain participants to leave when their participation is no longer needed is also a great way to show deep respect for their time. While leaving during a meeting could be seen as rude, inviting people to leave provides them with a more graceful exit while removing social pressure and freeing them to return to work.
Successful meetings lies in effective leadership. When nobody takes the lead, goals become unclear, participants remain disengaged, and follow-up actions are forgotten. The meeting organizer must either take charge or delegate leadership to someone else. This person will ensure that the agenda topics are covered, the meeting rhythm is good, and everyone is clear on their roles. Active participation from attendees is crucial to maintain engagement and prevent multitasking during the meeting. Remember that effective meetings are the result of effective leadership.
Empower Active Discussions
In the world of effective meetings, collaboration is key. A meeting is not a one-person show, nor is it a platform for a select few to dominate the conversation. If only one person speaks or presents, then it becomes a presentation - and that could be replaced by a shared video. Similarly, if only a select few are actively participating, then it begs the question of whether the rest of the attendees shouldn't be present in the meeting at all. Of course, many of your colleagues may want to be in the loop and be involved downstream eventually, but if they have no role in the decision-making process, then they shouldn't be in today's meeting. Remember, collaboration is the cornerstone of effective meetings - so make sure everyone has a voice and an opportunity to contribute to the discussion.
Taking the time to prepare beforehand will help you organize your thoughts and be ready to discuss key points, making the meeting more efficient and ensuring that you can adequately address any potential questions or concerns.
To prepare, start by considering the desired outcomes and main points that need to be discussed. Then, prepare potential questions and answers, and any relevant data or research that can support your points. Searching for data during a meeting can detract from the focus of the discussion, so be sure to have your data ready prior to the meeting.
Overall, prioritizing preparation can make a significant difference in the meeting's outcome. It helps you stay on track, focused, and ensures everyone's time is used efficiently. So, next time you have a meeting, make sure to prepare and give yourself the best chance for success. Avoid being useless or wasting others' time, and make sure you look good.
The organizer of a meeting holds responsibility towards everyone who is invited to the meeting. Therefore, the organizer must follow core values and do the required follow-ups to ensure that the meeting is meaningful and not a waste of everybody's time.
Participants also have the responsibility of preparing for the meeting, attending the meeting, and completing the action items that follow. This is a lot of responsibility for someone who just received a Google Calendar invite! This is why the meeting organizer needs to be respectful of others' time by understanding the implications of calling a meeting.
In a meeting, accountability from every participant is crucial to ensure that the meeting is productive and achieves its goals. When attendees are held accountable, they are more likely to actively participate in the discussion, contributing their ideas, opinions, and expertise. This helps foster a collaborative environment, leading to better decision-making and problem-solving. Accountability makes it easier to track progress and identify areas that need improvement.
- Assign specific tasks and responsabilities to each attendee whenever's possible
- Set deadlines for action items and follow up on progress
- Make sure that all decisions and action items are documented and distributed
Should We Do a Meeting?
Removing superfluous meetings is perhaps the single biggest gift you can give in terms of productivity. If your meeting respect the core values we have discussed previously, then it’s possible that a meeting still make sense. Even then, your meeting doesn’t have to be synchronous, meaning that asynchronous conversations could be a more efficient way to achieve the same goal.
Asynchronous meetings are a way to achieve the same meeting goals without requiring participants to attend a live, active discussion. This can be a great way to respect everybody's time while avoiding Zoom fatigue.
Asynchronous tools can include email, messaging platforms like Slack, or other collaboration tools. If the concept is complex or you need to share your screen to explain it, consider recording a narrated audio/video and sharing it with others. This can easily replace a meeting, and participants can listen to it whenever they have time. Alternatively, an audio message can sometimes be an efficient way to ask a question or follow up on something - think of it like a modern voicemail. In these days, many tools even provide a text transcript, giving the recipient the choice to read or listen to your message when it's most convenient for them.
Asynchronous meetings can be a great way to respect everybody's time while still achieving your meeting goals. Consider using them when appropriate to reduce the number of synchronous meetings on your calendar.
A synchronous meeting is a meeting where everybody is connected at the same time (live). This means that everyone have to sync their schedule and arrive on time. Synchronous meeting happens because an active discussion and everyone in the room needs to participate.
Meeting Decision Matrix
The following image is a matrix that can help determine the best synchronous or asynchronous channel of discussion depending on several factors. The matrix includes 4 dimensions:
- Urgency: Does the subject require immediate attention?
- Importance: How important is the topic? What happens if it is deprioritized?
- Complexity: How easily can the matter be resolved?
- Preparation: What level of preparation is required to achieve the goals?
Remember, not all meetings need to be synchronous. Consider the urgency and importance of the topic, as well as the level of collaboration required, before scheduling a meeting.
What to do when you receive a calendar invitation with no agenda
When you receive a digital calendar invite devoid of an agenda, it can leave you hanging in a cloud of uncertainty. It's essential to reach out and request clarity from the meeting organizer. Kindly ask for an agenda or at least a brief overview of the meeting's objectives.
Remember, your time is valuable - understanding the purpose of the meeting allows you to prepare effectively and determine if your attendance is indeed necessary and prepare if it is. If the meeting organizer can't provide a clear agenda, it might be a red flag indicating an ill-prepared and potentially unproductive meeting. So don't hesitate to request this vital information; it's not just a courtesy, it's a best practice.
A Guide to Successful Synchronous Meetings
There are some basic rules to follow when running meetings in a mature organization. At Nixa, we have developed the CANAN method, which combines the best practices in management consulting, adapted in a flexible way for any type of meeting.
Before the meetings
Make the Meeting Agenda Available to All as Soon as Possible
People need to get prepared to your meeting. You wouldn’t want people to waste your time, therefore don’t waste their time. Send them a clear meeting agenda. The best place to share the meeting agenda is in the Calendar Event itself. Not Slack, not Notion, not email. That means that the meeting agenda should me made accessible to all attendees in the agenda event, even if you use a different channel like email or slack to communicate.
During the meeting
The CANAN method
The CANAN method is a way of preparing, documenting, and sharing discussions that leads to decision-making during meetings. You can incorporate it as a template in your favorite note-taking tool. The CANAN meeting template covers the following points:
- Context. The context of the meeting is usually the title - it’s a way for the attendees to understand quickly what the meeting is about.
- Goals. The meeting goals should be clear and shared among all participants, even if they have different roles. For instance, a salesperson may aim to "close the deal," but the meeting goal should be inclusive and serve everyone's needs. Consider "Present the service offer and answer all necessary questions before the start of the project" as a meeting goal.
- Agenda. The agenda lists all the points that need to be discussed during the meeting. By sharing the agenda in advance, you give stakeholders the opportunity to add new points and ensure that the meeting time is appropriate. Any new points that are brought up during the meeting itself should be either moved to the last point (miscellaneous) or postponed for additional discussions.
- Notes. While each participant is invited to take notes during the meeting, each member of the meeting should also include important notes in advance. If there is a PowerPoint presentation to review during the meeting, add it to the meeting notes so that other participants may review it beforehand. This will allow for more time to be spent on discussion instead of reading the presentation during the meeting. During the meeting, your notes should follow the principle of Low Effort-High Comprehension. Notes should not be a reminder for your own brain, but rather a digestible way of understanding for other people who are not present in the meeting.
- Milestones. Milestones are important dates or deliverables that everyones in the meeting agreed on. Milestones are general deliverables, not individual deliverables.
- Action Items. Action items are tasks that are assigned to specific meeting participants to progress toward the milestones.
- Next Steps. Next steps are the simple subsequent actions related to the meeting. This is important because stakeholders who were not present in the meeting will look at the next steps as the natural course of followup actions after the meeting.
After the meeting
If you are the meeting organizer or the person responsible for helping to organize the meeting, it is your responsibility to follow up after the meeting. This includes promptly sending a summary of the meeting notes, action items, and next steps while the meeting is fresh in everyone's memory, ideally within 24 hours. By doing so, everyone is reminded about the outcomes of the meeting, and it gives them time to complete their action items, which can reduce stress.
It may be a good idea to inform those who were absent or not invited to the meeting with the follow-up information.
Without proper follow-up, it's as if the meeting never happened. The Curve of Forgetting states that meeting attendees will have forgotten 60% of the meeting after 2 days.
Source: http://ol.scc.spokane.edu/jroth/Courses/English 94-study skills/MASTER DOCS and TESTS/Curve of Forgetting.htm
Here is a checklist to help you rock your next meeting.
Before the meeting
- Is the context of the meeting clear?
- Are the goals clear and inclusive of all participants?
- Did the agenda as been established?
- Has the context, goals, and agenda been shared with all participants via a digital calendar invitation with enough time for them to prepare??
During the meeting
- Have you created your notes in the collaborative tool?
- Additionally, you should ask other participants to do the same.
- Did you established the milestones?
- Did you created the actions items?
- Did you established the next steps?
After the meeting
- Did you summarized important participants notes?
- Did you assigned all the action items?
- Did you share the summarized notes, next steps, action items, and milestones with all participants within the next 24 hours, via a digital calendar, after the meeting?
Virtual Meetings Rules
Use Available Collaborative Tools
Sharing is caring. Your notes, taken on a piece of paper, are worthless if not shared with the other meeting participants. If other attendees use a collaborative tool to take notes during the meeting, you should participate adequately by using the same tools as everyone else. Meeting notes should not be a free-for-all activity, nor the responsibility of a single person.
Turn On your Camera
In order to ensure that everyone feels comfortable and engaged during the meeting, it is important to show respect by turning on your camera. This will not only allow for more effective communication and collaboration, but it will also help to build stronger relationships with your colleagues. Additionally, by showing your face, people are more likely to pick up on nonverbal cues and body language, which can be crucial in understanding what others are trying to convey. So, please do your part to create a positive and inclusive meeting environment by keeping your camera on throughout the session.
Test your Microphone
Having a good microphone is crucial for productive meetings. Ensure your microphone works by doing a test call and asking for feedback from colleagues. This will help ensure everyone can hear and understand each other during the meeting.
A bad microphone can be an energy drainer for participants and contribute to zoom fatigue, especially during long meetings. Multiple languages can also add an extra layer of difficulty and lead to frustration and fatigue when combined to a bad microphone.
Record when Possible
When possible, record your meeting and make the recording link available in your follow up notes. This can give participants to revisit the meeting when needed and absent stakeholders to listen to the meeting in an asynchronous way, during their time. The more complex the meeting, the more important it becomes to record the meetings to ensure that precious information is not lost. To avoid people being weirded out, we suggest telling participants why the recording is happening and the benefits for recording the sessions.
The principles and practices outlined in this article offer a roadmap for achieving mature, productive meetings. By respecting people's time, taking leadership, empowering active discussions, being prepared, and taking accountability, meeting organizers can create a culture of respect and productivity. Additionally, by choosing the appropriate meeting format (synchronous or asynchronous) and using collaborative tools, meeting participants can work together effectively, even when they are not in the same physical location. It is our hope that by following these practices, organizations can transform their meetings from frustrating time-wasters to productive and engaging sessions, resulting in more efficient use of time and resources.