Making absolutely boring and absolutely needed meetings better

Image via Opaque Design

I’ve been thinking about the little things a lot lately. Rather than trying to make big leaps in changing anything — public services, organisational cultures, personal behaviours etc. — it’s always felt to me that shifting things a little is a more effective way of getting to where you want to go.

This is what was behind a recent presentation in Scotland on making Self-Directed Support a reality in mental health. Rather than big pictures and sweeping strategies, the idea was to highlight small, practical things that people can do whatever part and level of the system they’re in.

(Some who think this way would therefore say: “You can’t eat an elephant all once”; to which some others reply “You can’t leap a chasm in two”. The best approaches are probably somewhere between the two — maybe a slightly nibbled elephant trying to jump really high?)

It’s why I’m endlessly fascinated by meetings. You couldn’t find a more fundamental component of running an organisation well, and yet meetings are done so universally badly it’s amazing how relatively little attention they get.

Over the last few weeks, Harvard Business Review has been running a series on effective meetings. In the spirit of this being one of the little things that can help make the big things better, here are three highlights from their series of posts:

  1. Determine whether you need a meeting in the first place (see the diagram above to help with this). If you do need one, have a focused agenda, limit the people who come, and be focused
  2. End meetings well. Not (necessarily) by telling a joke, but particularly by checking the conversation is finished, checking people’s alignment, and agreeing actions and next steps
  3. For a wide variety of reasons, not having one-to-ones (especially with direct reports) might save time in the short-term, but probably creates problems in the long-run, and is not very efficient at all. Have them, and do them properly.
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