Meetings are obnoxious
Meetings are a pain and a waste of time. We hear these sentiments from our staff, our bosses, and sometimes our clients.
And it’s true, some (most) meetings are like this. Meetings without goals result in wandering conversations; meetings without a defined agenda run overtime; and meetings without actions assigned to individuals tend to be repeated, wasting time.
However, meetings can be a great way to communicate information, discuss and resolve issues, and to keep your finger on the pulse of the business. Consider them a necessary evil - a clear structure, a desired outcome, a strong chair and a little forethought can provide a great outcome.
The first step
The first step is to ask if a meeting is the most efficient use of everyone’s time. This will depend on the purpose of the meeting - is the meeting important? Timely? Are the right people invited, and no-one more?
Important meetings are:
- Weekly team meetings to identify and discuss issues. Keep these short.
- Weekly management team meetings to review scorecards, identify issues, and prioritise and resolve the most important issues. Have a defined agenda and a regular timeslot for these meetings.
- Monthly or quarterly 1-on-1 meetings between managers and their team members. ( 1-on-1 time is critical for productive teams. For new team members I recommend weekly 1-on-1 meetings, changing to every 2-4 weeks as systems become embedded. This especially applies to remote teams, as there is no accidental water cooler contact and idea sharing.)
- Hiring and firing team members. (Clients and suppliers can be fired over the phone or by email).
- Annual or two-yearly company get-togethers. Particularly important for fostering a team environment with a remote or geographically-dispersed team.
Optional meetings could be:
- Daily stand-ups or “huddles” to set a daily direction. These can work well for people starting at a similar time and working in the same physical location. For remote teams, this would be better served with a “check-in” or “stand-up” Slack channel, where team members check in when they log on for the day. A basic template for a Slack check-in is (1) key things to do today (up to 3), (2) roadblocks, and (3) achievements from previous.
- Informational meetings, where key events or information is passed down the chain of command. Once again, for remote teams this could be better served with an email.
Zoom or video meetings are even harder to get right - participants can be more reluctant to speak up, it is harder for the meeting chair to retain control without being able to see body language, and there is no water-cooler chat before or after the meeting.
Because of this, video meetings should be questioned even harder than in-person meetings.
Set an agenda
Every meeting should have an agenda. As a bare minimum, this could be a few minutes for check-in/introductions, the 3-5 key points to discuss, and reviewing any action items assigned.
An example agenda for a weekly management meeting is provided in more detail, as an example of a regular and important meeting.
Management Meeting Agenda Example
This example generally follows that outlined as a “Level 10 meeting” in the book Traction by Gino Wickman.
60-90 minutes, depending on the size and the growth-stage of the company. Fast-growing companies with many changes may need a longer timeslot.
Check-in (5-10 minutes)
- Key business wins for the month
- Ask team members for any other key wins - professional or personal - to set the tone of the meeting
Quarterly goals (“rocks”) update (5 minutes)
- A brief review of progress toward quarterly goals for the business (or quarterly team goals, for departments or teams). If this can’t be covered in five minutes, you probably have too many goals.
Scorecard (5 minutes)
- Review the key metrics in the business scorecard. If chosen correctly, these metrics will highlight the direction of the company and any areas of concern.
Client & employee headlines (5 minutes)
- Any major good or bad news relating to clients, customers or employees
- Review off the action items and next-steps from the last meeting
- Discuss any information that needs to be communicated to the team as a result of these actions
Issues discussion (30-60 minutes)
This is the crux of the weekly management meeting - identifying, prioritising and addressing important issues. The issues discussion can be summarised as Prioritise, Discuss, Solve, Act, and Track.
For each meeting, there are usually more issues than there is time available, so the issues and opportunities need to be prioritised.
- Review / table all the identified issues and opportunities, including any issues raised from weekly scorecard numbers. This may also include any outstanding issues from the to-do list review
- Quickly identify top 3-5 issues (if a scoring system is used, these will be the issues with the highest scores), and focus the discussion on these only
- Other - lower priority - issues should be either:
- Backlog for potential discussion at a later date
- Immediately delegated to a relevant team member for action, or
- Closed with no further action required
- For opportunities and ideas, it can sometimes be worthwhile just to discuss or exchange information, without necessarily assigning actions.
- While 3-5 issues may be discussed at a regular meeting, it is recommended that no more than one opportunity or idea is discussed.
DISCUSS & SOLVE
- Drill down into each high-priority issue, to determine the real issue before attempting to solve the issue - the real issue is often not the issue identified.
For opportunities, focus on if/why the opportunity is a good idea, potential benefits, and should resources be made available to implement the idea.
- Suggest potential options/ideas for solutions, round-table style.
- Seek solutions for problems or implementing an opportunity
- Be sure to determine the real issue before discussing potential solutions.
- There may be multiple issues causing a single problem, however real issues are caused by people.
- There are a number of different techniques to determine the root cause of the issue. One option is to ask “why is this an issue/why did this happen” five times, to assist in getting to the root cause of the issue.
- Be aware of unrelated tangents.
- Agree on a resolution to the issue. This could be action, raising awareness or gathering further information.
- Assign actionable item(s) in your project/task management system, with a due date and a responsible person.
- Assign a “Review” status in the IDS Issue list, for review at a future meeting. The IDS issue should only be closed when actions appropriate actions have been taken
- Make decisions like you are the company you want to be
- Solving issues takes time, but should future remove symptomatic issues
- After decision is made, live with it, end it, or change it
- Monitor issues and opportunities for progress since the last meeting (using Clickup due dates and responsible people), with a view to determining success of actions taken, and if any further actions required
- Strategic issues and opportunities are tracked at weekly leadership Level 10 meetings
- Departmental issues and opportunities are tracked by appropriate team leader
- Interdepartmental issues and opportunities are tracked by department head which identified the issue (as the person with the most interest in resolving the issue)
- The status of outstanding issues and opportunities (with a “for review” status)
- Tracking is important to ensure that important issues are reviewed, to determine if the action resulted in the intended outcome, and to determine if further action is required.
- Outstanding issues and opportunities (those with a “Review” status) are reviewed at the start of the IDS process, to see if the issue/opportunity is being appropriately addressed.
Wrap up (5 minutes)
- Recap the to-do list and next steps from your meeting.
- Discuss if there are any cascading messages that need to be communicated to the rest of the organisation.
- Optional: rate your meeting. The ideal is to receive ratings of 8 or higher. If it’s lower, ask why so you can course-correct for next time.
Close out all meetings with Actions
The main outcome of any meeting should be action(s) assigned to an individual. The only exception to this is for informational meetings, where the purpose of the meeting is to provide information and answer questions from team members.
Examples of actions are:
- Do X item by Y date
- Research Z topic and provide more information by/for the next meeting, on Y date, in a defined format (report, email, verbal presentation, meeting agenda item etc)
Actions are not:
- Let’s think about this and discuss it again next time (reason this is not an action - it is too vague, no-one accountable)
- Someone needs to talk to the vendor and come to a resolution (reason this is not an action - the outcome is potentially too ambitious, no one accountable)
Meetings in a nutshell:
- Have a reason to meet,
- Control the meeting so that the important items are discussed, and the meeting ends on time, and
- Assign actions.
Here is to improving meeting productivity and usefulness.