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Make Meetings Productive

One thing I have learned very soon in my career is: meetings must be useful for all the participants.

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…

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I have vivid memories of managers of mine looking very busy, always telling people they had a meeting in a few minutes. Sometimes it was true, while some other times they just wanted to dismiss whoever stepped into our office, but the effect they obtained was, either way, powerful: people believed they were really busy, with much more important things to do than listen to their colleagues.
And those managers felt powerful: they could wear cool suits and ties and meet important people.

Sometimes I was asked to take part in those meetings and found myself sitting in a room with a bunch of people, while they were discussing for long hours, many times without even reaching a conclusion.

The effective meeting philosophy

My commitment has always been very precise since: I do not want to be one of those managers who are sitting in inconclusive meetings the whole day.

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Or if I am, then I want to be effective.

But how? Here are a few rules I apply.

1 – Plan

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Quoting Hannibal Smith is always appropriate.

Decide in advance what type of meeting it will be and what its goal is.
Ask stakeholders to do their homework and come prepared.

For example, is it a meeting to prepare an announcement? Then identify one member – could be you – who will prepare a draft to share.

2 – Make it specific and straight to the point

Meetings with long and complex agendas are not great candidates to be effective.

Define a specific purpose for the meeting and as soon as it has been accomplished, sum up and adjourn.

3 – Define the outcome

If you want the meeting to be specifically targeted at something, and you want that, then you need to define what it needs to accomplish when it’s over.

  • What are the desired deliverables?
  • Who is responsible for creating those?

4 – Take notes

Taking notes is vital and can be either done by you, or you can delegate.
Try to be fair, though: unless you are at a level high enough to have a personal secretary or similar – which is not my case – it is a good idea if note-taking duties rotate, rather than always asking the same person to extrapolate and write down the juicy parts of the conversation.

5 – Distil and Express

Borrowing wording from the C.O.D.E. (Collect, Organize, Distil, Express) model from Building a Second Brain (BASB), this is the time where notes need to be consolidated into proper items: e.g. Jira issues, a write-up, a blog post, etc. Ideally, whatever suits the situation and the needs.

6 – Follow up

With your deliverables at hand, you can now draw your conclusions and share them with the stakeholders, defining the next steps and a tentative time to reconvene, if necessary.

Documenting and sharing the results of the conversation is the proper way to make sure everyone aligns on the outcome and expectations.

7 – Mobiles forbidden!

I don’t like mobiles and other distractions. People looking at their phones while at meetings give a false sense of multi-tasking and time optimization, but the reality of it is, it produces a negative impact on the productivity and focus of the session.
It is not only counter-productive in terms of attention, but it is also disruptive to the team building and bonding process.
And even if the participants are not part, per org-chart, of the same team, they can be considered as a temporary team.

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