How to manage meetings effectively

Meeting Management
Meetings and briefings are an essential part of management. They are also incredibly time consuming, and therefore costly. Eight people in a meeting for one hour equals eight hours of corporate time. That is the equivalent of a whole day's productivity. That being the case, it is beholden on managers to hold purposeful meetings. The key components here are content and conduct.

Content of the Meeting

Effective meetings have an agenda. An agenda, however, should not merely be a list of topics. For each item on the agenda, it is good practice to put in brackets, the reason why that topic is included.

For example, 'Decision to be taken.' This is a clear indication to the attendees that if they have a view on this matter, they had better raise it during the meeting, as this will be their only chance to do so.

It gives a sense of focus. If there is no purpose for the item being there, lose it.

Each of the agenda items should also have its own allocated time. 'Decision to be taken' - 20 minutes. This enables the person chairing the meeting to manage it effectively and to avoid it turning into a talking shop. In effect, what is taking place is not a single one hour meeting, but a series of mini meetings, which just happen to be running concurrently. It may even be that some people need only attend for one of the topics, thereby saving their time.

End each agenda item with a simple next step statement, for example, 'Mary to draw up floor plan for new office layout.' This aids clarity and shows what actions will ensue. The next step statement may on occasions be, 'no action required.'

For the most part, it is best to avoid 'Any Other Business' (see below).

Meeting Conduct

When chairing a meeting, always start on time. Waiting for the eighth person to arrive ten minutes late, wastes 70 minutes of collective time. Do not recap for late arrivals. If there is no consequence for them arriving late, they will continue to do so, and lateness may well spread to other attendees at future meetings.

Unless there are exceptional circumstances, ensure there are no interruptions; mobiles should be turned off etc. If the meeting is important there should be no distractions. If it is not important, don't have it!

Stick to the agenda and the timescales set. After 15 minutes of the decision making item you can interject with, 'We've got about five more minutes on this, has anyone got anything new or different to add?'

Beware of the voices in the room. Is there someone who is taking the lion's share of the air space? Make sure everybody has an opportunity to contribute. They may have nothing to say, but give them the chance. Make sure only one voice is heard at a time. Put ground rules in place at the outset if you think that it is necessary.

Always ensure a positive atmosphere and do not allow meetings to become moan and groan sessions. Lead by example.

Always circulate the agenda at least 48 hours before the meeting takes place. If relevant, also issue any appropriate papers for consideration prior to the meeting, so that attendees can prepare effectively beforehand.

If you are going to allow 'Any Other Business', then ensure that such topics are raised beforehand and added to the agenda proper, and that the person tabling the item circulates a paper (max 1 side of A4) to all attendees, outlining their proposal etc.

One final tip is to consider when is a good time to have meetings. Meetings straight after lunch tend to be lethargic!

At the end of the meeting summarise the next step statements.

Meeting Briefings

Briefings are the 'little sibling' of meetings. These should be no more than, say, ten minutes or so. To this end they can be more frequent, although again, do not have them for the sake of having them. Typically, managers will often have a first thing Monday morning meeting. Apart from being a good opportunity to spot the latecomers, it is the ideal time to set the tone for the week.

Here it may be a chance to highlight the key priorities, or to alert staff to any unusual events, which may be taking place that week. It can be a reminder as to who is on holiday and what cover is needed or it may just be a time to reinforce some key messages. In effect, it is the team news session.

Meeting Management Summary

In summary, remember that meetings in particular, are very time consuming and therefore, have to be purposeful and productive. Think about why you are having them and what they are intended to achieve.

Keep the momentum going and do not allow them to become talking shops. When considering the content, a good rule of thumb is, 'If in doubt, leave it out.' Only include the things that can justify that use of time.

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