Your time is the most valuable asset you have. It's one of only a few things that you can give someone and never get back. Meetings take time, and thus can be one of the most costly wastes of time and resources. There has been a lot written and discussed on the idea of having less meetings. "Death to the meeting", has become a battle cry for many. In some cases, rightfully so. But many times meetings are needed and a valuable tool. Meetings can be very effective and useful when used correctly. A hammer is great at driving nails but not so great when someone whacks your thumb. When the tool of a meeting is used incorrectly, it feels like getting whacked in the thumb with a hammer. People hate it. They want to avoid it at all costs. We should be talking more about how to create exceptional meetings that are used properly. Let's explore a basic, painless, process for structuring an exceptional meeting.
1. Be Intentional
The first and greatest issue is that we aren't intentional about meetings. We mindlessly walk from one to the other, or try to avoid thinking about them because we hate them so much. Stop it! If we're going to have successful meetings, they need our attention. Consider each meeting on your calendar and it's purpose. Start with intentionality for each and every meeting. Don't just let them exist.
2. Define It's Purpose
You need a clear purpose and a single focus. "How might we..." statements will lead us into the purpose of the meeting. There can be secondary benefits, but you need a primary goal. "How might we get the team aligned for this project", or, "how might we execute this new product effectively". If you are sensing the need for a standing meeting, you might ask, "how might we review progress and define the next dliverables." Your purpose needs to be very clear and well defined. Also, once you have a purpose statement, ask yourself this very important question, "does this need a meeting, or can it be accomplished in another way?" For example, if you landed on a purpose checking in on progress, this could easily be accomplished through e-mail or some sort of task management tool. If the purpose doesn't need a meeting, don't schedule one.
Ask yourself this very important question, "does this need a meeting, or can it be accomplished in another way?"
3. Define the Audience
Who is this meeting for? Again, this should be a focused statement with as few answers as possible. If you're the leader, it's likely the meeting is for you. Or maybe it's for someone on your team. Don't let a meeting exist without an audience defined, and be sure your meeting content is focused on the audience. If this meeting is for you, the leader, than keep it that way. What are you looking for from the attendees? Get what you need, and then call the meeting closed. If the meeting is for a specific project team be sure to keep it focused and don't discuss other projects, deliverables, or ideas, that don't relate. Know your audience.
My rule of thumb for meeting leaders is that you should spend a quarter of the meeting length in preparation minimum. That is, if you have a one hour meeting you should spend fifteen minutes preparing for it each time. If you have a four hour meeting, it should get one hour of prep. That's a minimum requirement. Too many leaders walk into meetings without any prep at all. Meeting attenders should also spend time preparing. If people walk into a meeting with their thoughts organized and focused, things will progress so much faster and more effectively. Send out information about the meeting ahead of time and ask attendees to come prepared with any specifics you need from them.