7 Rules To Run An Effective Meeting
How do most people think about meetings?
Type the phrase “meeting is a waste of time” on Google and you’ve got 196 million results. Some of the hardest critics are from top reputable business publications like Inc. or Business Insider.
Okay. You get the picture.
Love it or hate it, we must admit that businesses still need meetings to get a hold of people.
In the book “How to run a meeting”, Sir Antony Rupert Jay explains the capacity to share knowledge and experience among a group as “the social mind”, which has the creative power to produce better ideas, plans, and decisions than can a single individual, or a number of individual, who each working alone.
So the question here for leaders is “How to create a meeting environment in which people get engaged and fully contribute?”. There are 8 rules for effective meetings that we apply for every meeting at meetingpackage.
Rule #1. Always start with the purposes
Ask yourself this question: Why do we have to hold this meeting?
Typically, a meeting is very often the only occasion where the team or group exists and works as a unit.
However, thanks to collaboration tools like Slack or Google Hangout, people have the freedom to work wherever they want.
As the result, participants nowadays require that team meetings must bring obvious values for them or their work. And if you do not define the purposes of your meeting beforehand, you will risk losing your attendees.
According to Antony Jay, there are four typical meeting functions:
- The Informative-digestive function or “What should I know?” question includes progress report or presentation- to give the group up to date on the status of current projects.
- The constructive-originative function encourages participants to contribute their knowledge, experience, judgment, or ideas for a new plan, new strategy, new policy, or a new market approach. This function serves the question of “What shall we do?”
- The executive responsibilities function includes the task distribution and decision for the new item discussed in the constructive-originative function. In this stage, the main talking point is implementing the plan. It answers the question “How shall we do it?”
- The legislative framework relates to the system of rules and procedures which all activities has been building upon. Since changes to the framework can alter the current procedures of the organisation as a whole as well as individual status and long-term security, any decision made must have the consent of all team leaders or be left unresolved for further discussion.
A single productive meeting may include all 4 functions as the group proceeds through the agenda. Indeed, It is a useful exercise for the chairman to go through the agenda, writing beside each item which functions it is intended to fulfil. This exercise helps clarify what is expected from the discussion and help focus on which people to bring in and what questions to ask them.
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Rule #2. Set a clear agenda
Imagine a meeting where participants are unprepared, people veer off track and the topics discussed are a waste of everybody times — all is the result of poor agenda design.
An agenda, without any doubt, is the most important element for any meeting. A properly made agenda clarifies the objectives for participants and keeps everything on track.
Still, there are reasons why meeting leaders still reluctant to apply agenda to meetings, mainly because of the amount of time invested in creating.
It does take times to slate out and make a clear timetable for all items of the meeting. But think about it this way, making a comprehensive agenda will help you to have a deep second look at whether or not you really need this meeting. It is completely useless to hold a meeting if an email can work wonder. Most managers are not aware of it until they have to sit down and set an agenda.
Antony insists that the fault that most people make when creating an agenda is keeping it unnecessarily brief and vague. Thus, meeting leaders should try to include some brief indication of the reason for each topic to be discussed. If there is one important item that affects the whole group, it is a good idea to single it out for special mention in a covering note.
Besides, it is essential for the chairman to circulate the agenda to everyone, but not too far. Two or three days before the meeting is reasonable.
Rule #3. Keep it small
A man, a woman, and a penguin walk into a meeting.
You might wonder “What is the penguin doing there?” Unless it’s a meeting about wildlife in Antartica or how overly cute level it is, the appearance of the penguin contributes nothing to your meeting.
The penguin is certainly lost. Now imagine your meeting bystanders.
Eric Schmidt, Google’s executive chairman, insists that meetings should only include people who are there to contribute
“Bystanders are wasting time that could be spent being productive, and too many eager participants lower the quality of the conversation”
An idea meeting, according to Schmidt, never has more than 8 people. Jeff Bezos — CEO of Amazon — set a rule for every company’s meeting called “The Two Pizza Rules” — if it takes more than two pizzas to feed a work group, then the team is too big.
Of course, the meeting organisers don’t need to obligate to these rules if he/she doesn’t need to. However, it requires the leaders to masterful organise the meeting. Sir Antony suggests that in case there is no way to get the amount of participants to a manageable size, the leader can:
- Break down into smaller meetings with each correspondent group
- Restructure the agenda so that people can leave and arrive during the break.
- Ask if on or two groups can thrash out some topics in advance so that only one of them needs to come in with its proposal.
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Rule #4. Less is more
This study showed that people respond better in high time pressure condition than low-pressure condition in term of decision-making performance. According to that, groups in high-time pressure condition reported more salient leadership and showed more autocratic decisions than did groups in low-time pressure condition.
Once people realise they are short on time, they stop asking questions and focus on getting the work done.
At meetingpackage, a team meeting never exceeds the 30-minute limit. To skim the meeting time, there are a few tricks:
- Create and follow time constraint: Start and finish the meeting on time. Make clear timeslots for presentation and discussion table and notify people that it’s time to move on to the next session.
- Make clear transitions: Leaders always want to make the transitions when they want to but some participants don’t. Sometimes they may get stuck in the previous session and it costs more time to get them on the right track again. Hence, before making a transition, ask if there is any more concern about the current topic.
- Manage rambles: People often love giving speeches instead of answering questions. Thus, a leader should know how and when to cut someone off. Say something like “Thank you, Chris. Is it OK if we talk about it later?”. Don’t just cut people off and let them hang in waiting. Ensure he/she gets a buy-in so that he/she doesn’t jump back to the speech at the next opportunities.
Rule #5. Turn your mobile devices off!
We think that we are saving your time when you are multitasking.
No, we don’t.
Studies show that our brain does not function to juggle a lot of things at one, on the contrary, it just simply switches from one task to another. Ironically, even though we think we are getting a lot done, multitasking actually make us less productivity and less efficient.
Furthermore, using your phone or checking your email not only has a bad impact on your productivity but also distracts others.
Research by Francesca Gino at Havard Business School showed that people feel annoyed when others use their devices in the meeting, yet we often fail to realise that our actions have the same effect on others when we are the ones engaging them. Especially, when there is someone who is presenting, he/she can feel hurt or insulted if one person in the audience is constantly on personal devices- especially if there is a senior manager.
So what is the drill here? According to Gino and Paul Axtell, the author of Meeting Matters: 8 Powerful Strategies for Remarkable Conversations, unless you have something really important that you can’t afford to miss, it’s best to leave your mobile devices out or turn them off completely during the meeting!
Rule #6. Make your meeting voluntary
Think it this way: the people who you call on for the meeting are parts of your dream team. Each has a unique set of skills, perspective, experiences, and interests. And your task now is to reinvigorate their power.
But mostly, we need the insight and judgment and leverage that employees bring us. All of us are smarter than any of us, and adding people can, if we do it right, make us smarter and faster and better at serving our customers — Seth Godin
Sometimes people have something to say, but they may not feel like they can unless they are asked. This may due to “cultural reasons, or language barriers, or general disposition”. So, the most valuable ways to change the pattern of not speaking is by calling on people and inviting them to the conversation, says Axtell.
But you never should push people on the spot and force them to speak. As the meeting leader or facilitator, you need to make your participants feel voluntary to contribute. By doing so, Paul Axtell suggests:
- If you find that a participant might have a good contribution to the discussion, ask them in advance: Say something like “We are going to discuss this matter and it’s right on your specialty, I expect that you can say something about it” to let them know your expectation and also help them prepare.
- Never call on people to put them on the spot: remember you always want to call on people to enrich the conversation, not to punish them. Says, if you see someone is on their phone, don’t call on them to get their attention. You want people to feel good about being called upon to share their views.
Rule #7. Experiment “No deck, no sitting”
In this 1999 study, researchers compared the effects of standing and sitting format on meeting length and the quality of group decision making. They found that stand-up meetings were 34% shorter than sit-down meetings and produced the same quality of the decision.
Jeff Bezos branded PowerPoint presentation as “gloss over ideas, flatten out any sense of relative importance, and ignore the interconnectedness of ideas” and banned it from any company meeting from 2004. In fact, more and more companies are now moving from slide presentation in meetings. Jeff Weiner, CEO of LinkedIn, eliminated any use of “deck” in company meeting from 2013, instead asked people to send materials 24 hours in advance.
At meetingpackage, we always try to set the meeting in the way that does not make participants feel obliged to attend. There is one time we hold a networking meeting in a spa outside of the city. The idea is that people can both relax and discuss new ideas and methods for upcoming stage. Many innovative ideas were raised at the time and have been carefully jotted down to the team worksheet for further examination.
The fact that leaders are trying something bold — whether standing up, going to retreats or banning decks- shows a significant shift to change up meetings. However, no matter what methods, remember not to let the format distract you from doing what really matters — running an effective meeting.
Now it’s your turn. How do you run your meeting? And do you have any rule of your own to ensure that your participants engage in the meeting? Let us know in the comment below!
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