Making the Most of Meetings
Effective communication, especially related to meetings, increases productivity, saves time and most importantly strengthens organizational leadership capacity. Surveys of executives show that they can spend up to 40% or 50% of their time in meetings. Furthermore many executives observe that up to 50% of the time people spend in meetings is wasted. Think of the leadership capacity that is lost.
How can we improve the situation? Both leadership books Cut to the Chase and The Six Fundamentals of Success focused on many concepts related to meeting management that increase leadership capacity and create organizational energy and increased alignment and results. This article describes tools that you can use to make the principles in these books come to life. You have probably observed that people who successfully “cut to the chase” think clearly, act effectively and communicate directly.
In working with countless organizations, I have seen that those organizations that develop common language and common practice in communications of all types, including meetings, phone calls, email and so forth, increase leadership capacity, with meetings becoming more productive and people even enjoying them.
What constitutes common language and common practice? Several key principles include: establishing ground rules; effectively using your company’s mission statement; starting with the end in mind by knowing what you want to achieve before you initiate a meeting or a communication; being prepared for the meeting and knowing when to meet and who should meet. Furthermore, if you are the facilitator, always establishing an agenda ensures that the purpose of the meeting is communicated and known. By the meeting end, debrief and have an action plan created.
Establishing ground rules becomes part of common practice. Examples include the following:
- Start meetings on time and hold people accountable for arriving on time
- Establish an end time in advance and end on time
- Come prepared to contribute
- Don’t interrupt
- Stay on point
- Listen carefully
- Eliminate distractions like phones and mobile devices
- Use common language, such as letting people know that you “got it”
- When you tell someone that you “got it” after the point is first made, it not only saves time, but keeps things on track and reflects your understanding of the concept
- Your company’s mission statement has power. It describes your organization’s purpose. When it becomes part of the common language of the organization, it can help you make solid business decisions. Use it to create ideas and validate the quality of ideas. When debating different options, use the mission statement to choose among them.
- Define the purpose of every meeting, conference call, phone conversation and one-on-one meetings.
- Start with the end in mind, knowing what you want to achieve before you start. A clear vision of what you want to achieve in the end will keep you moving towards the goal.
- Before you organize a meeting, ask yourself: “Is a meeting the most efficient and effective forum to achieve the goal? Would other methods such as phone calls, emails, a teleconference or a memo work more efficiently instead? What would happen if the meeting did not occur?”
- Ask yourself well in advance: “What do I want to accomplish? What do I need from the participants? What information do I want to share with them? What can I do to add value for the participants? How will the meeting’s effectiveness be measured?"
- In inviting participants, think about the functions needed to accomplish the goal before you think about the individuals. Invite only those critical to the goal. They and the others not invited will thank you once common practice establishes that only essential personnel attend each meeting. Others may be briefed afterwards as necessary.
- Create an agenda for every meeting. A well thought-out agenda lets participants know what is expected of them as a participant and enables them to effectively prepare. Even an impromptu meeting can use the first few minutes to define meeting purpose.
- Debrief at the meeting end. Ask your team, “Did we accomplish everything we set out to do? Do we have a clear action plan? Is everyone clear on their role, deliverables and timing on next steps?”
- Ask participants privately after the meeting to share their thoughts. This creates engagement and leads to better ways to get things done.
Time is leadership’s most precious resource. Using it wisely is leadership’s responsibility. Your organization’s establishment of common language and common practice will boost effectiveness, productivity and increase leadership capacity.
Stuart R. Levine is chairman/CEO of Stuart Levine & Associates Contact: (516) 465-0800 or stuartlevine.com