meaningful meeting

5 must-haves for a meaningful meeting.

We’ve all been in that meeting with no direction, no outcome and no engagement. The meeting is two hours long, happens every week and is filled with people you never knew were in the company.

Meetings are plagued by this all too common storyline, and whilst they can be essential drivers for collaboration, productivity and innovation, many people’s schedules are filled with ineffective meetings to the point where they spend their days drifting from meeting to meeting, dreaming about what life was like before it all. On average, 15% of an organization's time is spent in meetings, and 37% of those meetings are seen to be unproductive. One study even found that at a single, large (and anonymous for good reason) company, people collectively spent 300,000 hours supporting one weekly executive meeting. Unthoughtful meetings are a mental, physical and financial drain on the individual and the business. But, they don’t have to be. Here are five must-haves for creating a meaningful meeting.

1. Have an agenda.

A basic but fundamental requirement for every meeting. Having an agenda creates a sense of purpose and direction for the meeting and allows each person to understand why they are there. It gives a path to return to if conversation wanders too far, contributes to an efficient use of time and acts as a force against meetings happening simply because they’ve always happened. People don’t want to be sat in a room for no reason, so give them one.

2. Necessary meetings with necessary people

Having an agenda creates purpose, and that purpose can then be used to invite only the most relevant people to the meeting. Small, well-defined, focused meetings are more productive, more efficient and more meaningful. If you invite everyone with a title vaguely related to one item on the agenda, you’ll end up with a room crammed full of people who don’t feel responsible (or care) for the outcome of the meeting.

3. Actionable outcomes

Always leave time in a meeting to make sure everyone knows where to go next. Your efforts in bringing together the right people and hitting all of the points on the agenda will be wasted if the meeting ends and no one knows what they’re supposed to do after. Whilst you are allowed to set up a discussion with someone going forward, the outcomes of a meeting shouldn’t just be another five meetings scheduled. The aim is to reduce the number of meetings and increase the amount of work done. Outcomes should be realistic, definable, measurable and accountable.

4. Encourage vulnerability

It may sound a little abstract, but it’s really just about creating a space where people feel comfortable putting ideas out there. Encouraging people to feel like they can speak freely without being scolded is essential to a healthy meeting. If you’re leading a meeting, start with a wild idea that’s likely to raise some eyebrows and then underline the fact that you want to hear everyone’s ideas, regardless of what they are. Having smaller meetings helps here as the people involved will feel more valued, and in turn this will foster a more open and productive conversation.

5. Make meetings optional

Some swear by this; others think it’s ludicrous. Making meetings optional, however, fosters more responsibility for both those leading meetings and those possibly attending. If you’re leading, you have to create value in a meeting otherwise little is being added to improve business performance. On the other side, if you decide to never attend a meeting because they’re all optional, aren’t you reducing your value to the business? And as a final thought, if an optional meeting can provide value to your work and help you progress, why wouldn’t you attend?


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