STOP! Read this before you suffer another unproductive business meeting

by Jasmin Wilkins on 12/01/2016 10:00

Don't suffer another unproductive business meeting

Don’t you love it when you attend a business meeting that starts energetically and on time, the attendees are really present and actively discussing the agenda, resulting in clear decisions or action points? After a meeting like that, I walk out enthused, knowing work has been done well.

Reality check! How many meetings do we attend that really are as productive as this? Sadly, too often it’s more like the experience my colleague had last week – two hours on an audio-conference not quite sure what was being discussed and why (or by whom!) and not quite sure what the follow up was (other than there were no action points for her!).

Business change and IT activities involve people – people who have important experiences and information to contribute, people who need to coordinate and collaborate to deliver change, and people who are impacted by the change. Meetings are essential to delivering successful business change and IT projects.

This article is a call to action – make your business meetings better, more productive and more valuable, starting NOW. You owe it to yourself, your colleagues and your organisations to use meeting time productively. In this article I provide a set of meeting guidelines that will make your meetings significantly more effective.

While I am writing in the context of business change and IT meetings, the guidelines apply to any type of meeting.

1. Identify the purpose

Good meetings have a purpose. No purpose – No meeting!

  • Purpose: What is the expected outcome from this meeting?
  • Process: How will the outcome be achieved?
  • Timing: How long will it take to complete the process?

2. Prepare an agenda

Achieving an outcome requires a plan. Prepare an agenda designed to achieve the outcome, clearly describing the work items and timing.

  • Agenda: What activities will take place at the meeting?
  • Background: What preparation is required for participants?
  • Location: Where will the meeting be held - online, audio, physical, video?

3. Identify the right attendees

Good meetings need just the right attendees. Everyone attending needs to be able to contribute to the outcome. No role – No reason to attend!

Common roles which may be required include: Lead, Facilitator, Recorder, Expert, Decision maker, Presenter and Observer.

For example, in a requirements review meeting, I might invite Tom, Annie, and John as subject matter experts to provide feedback; Jessie as the business owner and decision maker; Tina to facilitate; and Adrian to take minutes.

4. Invite the attendees and ask them to prepare

Great – you have a purpose, a plan to achieve it, and you know who needs to be there! It’s time to get everyone on board!

Make sure everyone is free to attend the meeting, invite them, including the agenda and supporting information. Encourage feedback and discussion – good meetings deliver value for everyone attending, not just the organiser!

Ask your attendees to prepare for the meeting, providing specific actions. This will make the time during the meeting much more productive.

Make sure you share the purpose, attendee roles, and agenda with all the attendees in advance. For a simple meeting this may a quick email: ‘Team – block out 10.30-11.00 tomorrow to review the test results from last week. We’ll review the 6 test failures (details in the attached report p 8-10). Please make sure you’ve read the test results before we meet, we need everyone’s ideas on options to resolve the issues’.

For a two day strategy workshop, a more formal invitation and agenda is likely to be required.

5. Prepare the right environment

A meeting in a space in which everyone can participate effectively is more likely to be successful. A meeting in a small poorly lit room without enough chairs or table space, or an audio conference with people dialling in while walking outside, is less likely to achieve the meeting purpose.

  • Venue: What kind of facilities are required for the meeting activities?
  • Resources: What resources are required? e.g. presentation screen, poster paper, markers, sticky notes, video-conference unit
  • Records: How will the meeting activities and outcomes be recorded?
  • Refreshments: What refreshments are needed? Hanger (hungry anger) can easily derail a meeting, try and have snacks or sweets available if the meeting is longer than an hour!

If you’re using an unfamiliar resource (e.g. meeting room, video conference facility) … check these it out beforehand! I once booked a meeting room that was listed as holding 40-60 people and having presentation equipment. I turned up early to discover I’d booked only half of that room. The half without the equipment! That was a busy fifteen minutes!

On the day, get in a little early, set up your resources and any refreshments. Make the agenda visible at all times to the participants.

6. Proactively facilitate the business meeting

Good meetings are well facilitated and directed to achieve the purpose of the meeting.

Everyone has finally turned up – so let’s just start huh? Maybe not! Take a couple of minutes to set the scene will help create a productive meeting.

  1. Start on time!
  2. Welcome everyone
  3. Briefly state the background and purpose of the meeting
  4. (Optional) Review meeting etiquette – e.g. devices away, how to share the floor when multiple locations are involved
  5. Invite everyone to briefly introduce themselves (after people have spoken once in a meeting, they are more likely to contribute)
  6. Check all attendees have the meeting information, and have reviewed it. If some haven't reviewed it, consider for a little time for silent review, or reschedule.
  7. Check the agenda still fits the purpose
  8. Start on the agreed agenda
  9. Record all decisions, action points, and key discussion items. If possible, somewhere visible to all, such as the whiteboard. Any errors will then be noticed!
  10. Confirm action points, due dates, and owners
  11. Thank everyone for their time and effort
  12. Close on time (or early!).

7. Send out the meeting minutes

Good meetings result in agreed, documented outcomes, decisions and actions.

Send the minutes out as soon as you can! There are a few ways you can make this easier. My favourite is to ensure I record everything on a whiteboard or poster in the meeting, photograph it (using the CamScanner app to clean and straighten the image) and distribute the images as the minutes for the meeting. I insert them into a document with supplementary notes on key decisions and assigned actions.

8. Track the assigned actions

Good meeting outcomes depend on people completing their follow-up activities.

People often have more work coming in, and it's easy for actions to drop in priority - keep them front of mind and make sure actions are tracked through to completion.

Act now to avoid unproductive business meetings!

Running and participating in effective meetings is part of being a capable IT and business professional.

If you are running a meeting – try the steps outlined above, and see the difference!

If you are attending a meeting, check you have the answers to these three questions:

  1. What is the purpose of this meeting?
  2. What is my role at this meeting?
  3. What will we be doing at this meeting?

Try this approach for your business meetings, and add a dash of humour; people will enjoy them more, you’ll deliver better results, and you’ll walk out enthused, knowing work has been done well!

Jasmin Wilkins, Senior Consultant Equinox IT, Wellington OfficeLet us know how you get on and if you have any other great meeting tips – please share!

Jasmin Wilkins is a Principal Consultant, specialising in business analysis, business architecture and business change, based in Equinox IT’s Wellington office.

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