Meetings 101

by Stuart on 22 June 2012

We’ve been brought up to believe that meetings are a scourge on productivity. Is it possible we’ve been wrong all this time?

Well, yes and no. In general meetings are a scourge. But this is mostly because people don’t think about them before they call them, during them, or after them.

In this series of posts I will consider a few ways to make meetings usfeul. If you try them, they won’t revolutionize your organisation overnight, but if you plug away, you will see change. For the better.

The agenda – part 1
Here’s an agenda for a meeting. Look at it and try to figure out what we’ll be talking about.

  1. Minutes from last meeting
  2. Matters arising
  3. Budget for next year
  4. HR issues
  5. AOB

Any ideas? What is item 3 all about? Are we setting the budget, dreaming it up, finalising it? What? I don’t know about you, but I haven’t a clue, and so I don’t know how and/or what to prepare for this meeting. It’s likely that I’ll turn up, find out AT the meeting, and then sit through some stuff that I don’t really understand, and then have to go off and do some work to get to where I should have been at the start of the meeting.

The same is true for ‘HR issues”. This hides a multitude of potential problems. Are we talking about the industrial dispute that’s ongoing, or the new expenses policy? Come on people! Give us a clue!

And as for AOB.  Experience has shown that this item can take more than all the others put together as the participants suddenly remember important stuff that has to be discussed.

Let’s try again

The agenda – part 2

  1. Minutes from last meeting
  2. Matters arising
  3. Budget for next year
    • Consider figures for next year’s budget – see attached draft
    • Selection of projects for next year – see attached summaries
  4. HR issues
    • Review of mobile telephone policy (attached)
    • Progress on consultation on new restaurant facilities
  5. AOB

This is better. I know that we will be looking at the draft budget for next year, and probably be dicussing the figures that go to make it up. We’ll also be looking at which projects we can and cannot do, so I’d better make sure I’m prepared to justify my pet projects. I also know that there’s nothing serious to worry about in the HR slot.

The second agenda isn’t perfect, but it’s a whole heap better than the first. By thinking about what you want to get from a meeting, structuring the agenda appropriately, and providing background papers, you help the people who will attend to prepare and if they’re prepared they’re much more likely to make a decent contribution and you can leave the meeting with some decisions (yes, decisions, shock horror!) and your colleagues not thinking that you’ve wasted their lives – again.

AOB’s still there, but we have a new rule.  We’ll only talk about items that are presented at the start of the meeting.  In this way, the chair can decide if we can resolve the items at this meeting, or should they be put on the agenda for the next, giving us all time to think about them.

Not rocket science, but taking this simple step will go a long way to improving your meetings.

And there’s more.  In the next post, I’ll look at further structuring the agenda to make life better still.

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