How to hold meetings

It’s hard to imagine a company in which regular meetings would not take place, but even more difficult to imagine a company in which all meetings would be quick and efficient.

The most common problem during meetings is that people go into the discussion of details or low-priority issues, as a result, either do not have time to discuss all important issues, or the meeting takes much longer than planned.

The second most important problem is that the agreements reached are often lost and not executed.

How to conduct meetings properly? Let’s go through the steps.

Agenda

The first thing you should start with is the agenda. This is the most ignored step in holding meetings, but it is still worth spending a few minutes and drafting an agenda so that all participants understand in advance what will be discussed and could prepare. This can save a lot of time on the meeting itself.

For example, I was recently invited to a meeting where people wanted to discuss the priorities of tasks for development team, but the participants were not warned about this. As a result, the meeting fell through, because managers were not immediately ready to give the latest status on current tasks, without which the discussion of priorities lost their meaning and the meeting had to be postponed. The agenda would save time spent by all participants.

On the agenda, list items for discussion, time frames per item, and what is the expected result. Sometimes you can add a decision-making method (voting, consensus, advisory, or some other). For example, “Choose a new design for our site from the proposed, 10 minutes for the presentation of options, 5 minutes for a decision to be taken by voting.”

If the meeting is regular – take the time to review the implementation of agreements from the last meeting. What was done? What was missed and how to fix it?

Specify a list of participants. Microsoft Outlook allows you to specify mandatory and optional participants, but most often people ignore this information, so it’s better to write directly on the agenda. If you can – make sure in advance that the required participants do not have other meetings at the same time, Outlook allows you to do this in the schedule planner.

Be sure to send the agenda in advance, at least in a few hours, sending the agenda 5 minutes before the meeting may not make sense.

The agenda may look like this:

Topic: Discuss the new site design

Members: Alexander Ivanov, Marina Metelina, Anastasia Filatova, Victor Kharlamov (opt.)
We are discussing:
1. Design of the main page, menu structure and catalog, 25 minutes, approve or send for revision
2. Choose contractor, 15 Minutes
Please don’t be late! Thanks.

If the meeting was spontaneous, put on the agenda on the fly: what will be discussed, what will not, how much time is available per each item on discussion.

Preparation

What do you want from the meeting? What can you be asked about? What should be the result? Ask yourself these questions, write down if possible, if there is a risk of forgetting the answer. This will help you be as prepared for the meeting as possible.

In many ways, the preparation depends on what type of meeting you are planning to hold.

If this is a regular meeting to discuss the status, be prepared to tell what has been done on your part, what problems are and how they are resolved.

If this is a team meeting, it’s worth considering what news you would like to share with the team and what questions the team can ask you.

At 1-on-1 meetings, it is especially important to remember about your past promises, to think in advance what questions your employee/leader can ask and what feedback you want to give.

At strategic sessions or brainstorming sessions, it’s worthwhile to think in advance how you will achieve your goal and be ready to present these methods on the agenda or at the beginning of the meeting.

In my practice, I hold meetings of all the types listed above and always mentally prepare for them, this helps not to get lost during the meeting itself and to conduct it quickly without wasting time.

Conducting the meeting

In total, there are five roles that must be assigned to participants for an effective meeting. Most often, one participant carries several roles, but the more people are involved, the more correctly it will be to appoint an individual person for each role.

  1. Facilitator – makes sure that all participants are invloved in the discussion, involve “silent people” in the discussion with open questions (“What do you think?”, “From your perspective …?”) . This is important because “Silent people” are often introverts of the analytical mindset who see a lot of pitfalls and can bring a lot of practical meaning to the meeting, but are not psychologically prone to proactive behavior when there are active leaders. The same role can define or override the decision-making method. “Colleagues, we could not agree, and time is running out, so Alexander will make the final decision as an expert in this matter. Alexander, you have the floor”;
  2. Gatekeeper/Checker – politely but firmly returns the discussion to the planned course. “Colleagues, all this is very interesting, but let’s get back to our question, namely …”;
  3. Time Keeper – monitors the time and tells the participants how much left to discuss the current topic;
  4. Recorder – records important thoughts and agreements, sends the final list of accepted agreements in the form of a minutes of meeting (MOM);
  5. Materials Manager – distributes and collects the materials necessary for familiarization during the meeting. This role is least likely to occur.

For the correct conduct of the vast majority of meetings two people are enough, one (leader) bears the role of Facilitator and Gatekeeper, the second (assistant) – the Time Keeper amd Recorder. Sometimes one person can carry all roles, but practice shows that this works inefficiently.

I most often take on the roles of Facilitator, Gatekeeper and Time Keeper, I ask someone to help me write down the agreements, and I choose a person who is not the key one in the discussion, otherwise it will be difficult for him/her to focus on the topic. At other people’s meetings, I often unwittingly take the role of Gatekeeper and Time Keeper, preventing the participants from getting carried away with side discussions from the main topics.

For a productive meeting, it is important to focus on the future: who, what and when will do it, and not on the past (who is to blame and how it happened). When discussing problems, it is better to solve the root cause of the problem, and not the person (“How would we prevent this in the future?” Instead of “How could you do it wrong in the past?”).

This approach makes meetings as open as possible and helps to come up with clear, constructive agreements that are easy to verify.

I often see leaders ask why something has not been done and delve into it for a long time. This is counterproductive and causes people to just want to make excuses. In such meetings there is a spirit of tension and discontent. It is much better to think about how to achieve a result and look into the past only in order to prevent repeated mistakes.

According to the outcome of the meeting, it is necessary to speak out key thoughts and what we agreed on, i.e. voice the future protocol. This will make sure that all participants equally understood the accepted agreements. Sometimes at this stage it pops up that some of the participants understood the agreement in their own way and then you have a chance to quickly fix it.

Minutes of Meeting (MOM)

As a result of the meeting, all participants should receive a protocol of the meeting, which will contain:

  • Date
  • Topic of the meeting
  • Actual list of participants
  • Key thoughts
  • Agreements accepted (who, what and when will do)

This will help to not forget the agreement, clearly identify who is responsible for a particular item.

For example, a protocol might look like this:

Topic : Discussion of the new site design

Date : February 15, 2020
Participants: Alexander Ivanov, Marina Metelina, Anastasia Filatova
Key Thoughts:
• Design is not accepted without the approval of the director
• We can do without contractors with our own developers
• Developers must confirm the design on their part
Agreements:
1. The menu structure and the catalog are OK, but you need two more options for the main page: Marina, until February 15
2. Send a new brand book: Anastasia, today until the end of the day
3. Show design to developers and get their comments: Alexander, until February 17

Remember!

  • Send the agenda
  • Prepare for the meeting
  • Remember the arrangements
  • Assign the roles
  • Involve all participants, guard the gate, time and arrangements
  • Focus on the future, solve problems, not people
  • Send the minutes of the meeting