Whether we like it or not, meetings are an essential part of any organization.
They serve as a platform for collaboration, decision-making, and problem-solving.
However, not all meetings are created equal.
Many become a source of frustration and wasted time if not structured and managed effectively.
Understanding the true purpose of meetings and how to optimize their format can help make them more productive and enjoyable for everyone involved.
So lets delve into what should and shouldn’t be a meeting, alternatives to meetings, and how to get the most out of your meetings.
When A meeting Is Necessary
Anyone who’s been in a professional setting knows that meetings are often over-used.
But when should you hold a meeting?
- When a group needs to make a decision that requires discussion, clarification, or debate, meetings play a crucial role.
- They provide an opportunity for team members to share their perspectives, ask questions, and address concerns before reaching a consensus.
- Decision-making meetings can involve anything from determining a project’s direction to selecting the best course of action to overcome a challenge.
- They are most effective when all stakeholders are present and engaged, ensuring that a well-informed decision is made.
2. Brainstorming and problem-solving:
- Meetings are beneficial when a team needs to generate new ideas or find solutions to a problem.
- In-person or virtual gatherings can foster creativity and collaboration, allowing for the free exchange of thoughts and suggestions.
- Brainstorming meetings often involve tackling complex issues or exploring innovative approaches to work.
- They can help break down barriers between team members, leading to a more open and supportive work environment.
- By ensuring that everyone’s voice is heard, these meetings can result in more effective and diverse solutions.
3. Team alignment and goal setting:
- Regular team meetings are essential for establishing shared goals and ensuring that everyone is on the same page.
- These gatherings create a sense of unity and help maintain focus on the organization’s objectives.
- Team alignment meetings typically involve reviewing progress, discussing challenges or obstacles, and setting new targets for the future.
- By keeping everyone informed and engaged, these meetings can foster a sense of collective ownership over the team’s success.
- Just try to keep these engaging and short.
When To Skip The Meeting
When the primary purpose of a gathering is to share information, consider alternative methods of communication.
Distributing information through email or internal memos can save time and allow team members to absorb the information at their own pace.
Additionally, this approach enables employees to refer back to the information as needed, reducing the risk of miscommunication or confusion.
Just be careful if the information is really important or urgent. Only then should you consider a meeting.
In agile project management, status updates are communicated through retrospectives, and this is a great way to do it. But treat it like a hands-on presentation. Demonstrate actual value in the meeting rather than just talking about what was completed.
If you just have a lot of data to share, routine status updates can often be communicated more efficiently through email or reports.
This ensures that everyone is informed without taking up valuable time in meetings.
Reserve meetings for discussions that require team input, problem-solving, or decision-making, ensuring that the time spent together is both productive and meaningful.
If a conversation only involves two people, it’s usually better to schedule a separate meeting, rather than involving the entire team.
I can’t count how many times I’ve sat through a meeting where two department leads had an off-topic conversation while everyone around had to listen.
By addressing individual concerns or questions outside of group meetings, you can maintain focus during team gatherings and prevent unnecessary interruptions or distractions. Then just communicate the results of your conversation in a future meeting, or in an email/memo.
By carefully considering the purpose of each meeting, you can ensure that valuable time is spent on activities that genuinely require group discussion and input. This, in turn, can lead to more efficient and effective meetings that contribute to the organization’s overall success.
If Not a Meeting, then what?
Effective communication is more important than ever, but there are also myriad tools at our disposal. While meetings can serve as a valuable platform for collaboration and decision-making, they are not always the most efficient method for conveying information or gathering input.
By exploring alternative methods of communication, you can save time, increase productivity, and ensure that your team remains informed and engaged.
Email remains one of the most widely used and versatile communication tools in the modern workplace. It is ideal for sharing information, providing updates, or asking simple questions that don’t require immediate responses or group discussions. When using email, remember to be concise, clear, and include all relevant details. Additionally, make use of subject lines that accurately reflect the email’s content, making it easy for recipients to prioritize and manage their inbox effectively. To read more about when to use an email, check out the post from last week.
Instant messaging and chat tools:
Instant messaging or team chat platforms like Slack and Microsoft Teams are perfect for quick questions or casual conversations that don’t require a formal meeting. These tools enable real-time communication, allowing team members to collaborate, share updates, and seek assistance without interrupting their workflow. By fostering a sense of connectedness, these platforms can help to build camaraderie and maintain open lines of communication within your team.
Project management tools:
Project management platforms like Trello, Asana, or Basecamp are designed to help teams track tasks, deadlines, and progress updates. By centralizing information and streamlining workflows, these tools can reduce the need for status update meetings and improve overall productivity. By assigning tasks, setting deadlines, and providing regular updates within the platform, team members can stay informed and accountable without the need for additional meetings.
Video messages can serve as a more personal and engaging alternative to written communication. Platforms like Loom and Vimeo allow you to record brief video messages to convey information, provide updates, or share feedback. These videos can be easily shared and viewed at the recipient’s convenience, allowing them to absorb the information at their own pace. Video messages can also help to humanize communication, fostering a sense of connection and understanding between team members.
Internal documentation and knowledge bases:
Creating and maintaining internal documentation, such as wikis or knowledge bases, can significantly improve communication and information sharing within your organization. By providing a centralized repository for important information, resources, and processes, team members can easily access the knowledge they need to perform their roles effectively. Regularly updating and organizing your documentation can reduce the need for information-sharing meetings and help to streamline onboarding and training processes.
Tools like Google Workspace (formerly G Suite) and Microsoft Office 365 provide a suite of collaborative applications that allow teams to work together on documents, spreadsheets, and presentations in real-time. By enabling seamless collaboration, these tools can reduce the need for meetings to review or edit content, saving time and improving efficiency.
Virtual whiteboards and visual collaboration platforms:
Virtual whiteboards, such as Miro and Mural, allow teams to collaborate visually in real-time. These tools can be particularly useful for brainstorming sessions, as they enable team members to share ideas, create diagrams, and organize information without the need for a formal meeting. By facilitating dynamic and interactive collaboration, virtual whiteboards can help to generate more diverse and creative solutions to complex problems.
By making use of these alternative communication methods, you can ensure that your team stays connected, informed, and engaged without relying solely on meetings. This not only saves valuable time but also allows for more focused and productive gatherings when they are necessary. In the next section, we will explore the best structure for different types of meetings, helping you to optimize your time together and make the most of your collaborative opportunities.
Get the most out of your meetings
Just as the purpose of meetings can vary, so too should their structure. Tailoring the format of your gatherings to match their objectives will help to maximize productivity and ensure that the desired outcomes are achieved. In this section, we will discuss the best structure for different types of meetings, including brainstorming, decision-making, and team alignment sessions.
Brainstorming meetings are designed to generate new ideas, encourage creative thinking, and explore innovative approaches to solving problems. To make the most of these gatherings, consider the following structure:
Before the meeting:
Set a clear objective and agenda: Begin by defining the purpose of the meeting and outlining the topics to be discussed. This will help to keep the conversation focused and ensure that all relevant issues are addressed.
During the meeting:
Encourage open-mindedness and creative thinking: Foster an environment where team members feel comfortable sharing their ideas, no matter how unconventional they may seem. Encourage participants to build on each other’s suggestions and explore different perspectives.
Create a safe and inclusive environment for sharing ideas: Ensure that everyone’s voice is heard and that all contributions are valued. Be mindful of potential power dynamics and work to create a level playing field for all participants.
Use techniques like mind mapping or idea generation exercises: Incorporate interactive activities that encourage collaboration and creative thinking, such as mind mapping, the Six Thinking Hats method, or the SCAMPER technique. We’ll cover these, and other techniques in a future post.
Allocate time for individual thinking and group discussions: Balance time for quiet reflection with opportunities for group discussion, allowing team members to process their thoughts and refine their ideas.
After the meeting:
Capture and prioritize ideas for further exploration or action: Record all suggestions generated during the meeting and work together to prioritize the most promising ideas for further development or implementation.
Decision-making meetings are focused on reaching a consensus on a specific course of action. To ensure that these gatherings are productive and lead to well-informed decisions, consider the following structure:
Before the meeting:
Define the decision to be made and the criteria for making it: Clearly articulate the decision at hand and establish the factors that will be considered when evaluating different options.
During the meeting:
Ensure that all relevant information and perspectives are presented: Encourage team members to share their insights, concerns, and expertise, providing a comprehensive understanding of the issue at hand.
Facilitate open and respectful debate, addressing any concerns or questions: Encourage participants to voice their opinions and engage in constructive debate, ensuring that all perspectives are considered and any potential risks or challenges are addressed.
Use techniques like voting, ranking, or consensus-building to reach a decision: Employ structured decision-making methods, such as multi-voting, the Delphi technique, or the Modified Borda Count, to reach a fair and objective outcome. We’ll cover these, and other techniques in a future post.
After the meeting:
Clearly communicate the outcome and next steps to all participants: Summarize the decision made, outline the actions to be taken, and assign responsibilities for follow-up tasks.
TEAM ALIGNMENT AND GOAL-SETTING MEETINGS:
Team alignment meetings are designed to ensure that all team members are working towards shared objectives and are aware of the organization’s broader goals. To maximize the effectiveness of these gatherings, consider the following structure:
Before the meeting:
Review progress toward current goals and discuss any challenges or obstacles: Reflect on recent accomplishments and setbacks, identifying areas for improvement or opportunities for growth.
During the meeting:
Establish new goals, considering both short-term and long-term objectives: Collaboratively set achievable, measurable, and relevant goals for the team, aligning them with the organization’s strategic priorities.
Discuss strategies and action plans for achieving the goals: Develop a roadmap for success, outlining the steps needed to reach each target and the resources required to support these efforts.
Encourage team input and buy-in for the goals and strategies: Foster a sense of collective ownership over the team’s objectives by encouraging input and feedback from all team members. This will help to ensure that the goals are realistic, achievable, and reflective of the team’s capabilities and needs.
After the meeting:
Assign responsibilities and deadlines for specific tasks or initiatives: Clearly delineate the roles and responsibilities of each team member, establishing accountability and setting clear expectations for performance.
Establish regular check-ins to monitor progress and adjust plans as needed: Schedule periodic team meetings to review progress towards the goals, discuss any challenges or obstacles, and adjust strategies or action plans as necessary. This will help to maintain momentum and ensure that the team remains focused on its objectives.
General rules for all meetings
The specific advice for each meeting type above is only a general guideline, and should be tailored to your specific needs.
That said, here are my general rules for all meetings:
1. Know the purpose of the meeting up front:
When setting your meeting, you should know exactly what kind of meeting it will be and what you’re trying to get out of it. Ideally, each meeting should have a single purpose. No one likes sitting through 3 hour meetings that cover everything from critical upcoming deadlines to changes to the vacation policy.
Pick a single topic and a single goal/outcome.
Send out a short agenda, or even just a bulleted list in the meeting invite, that outlines the goal and topic of the meeting. Ideally, give invitees sufficient time to review and prepare for the meeting. Especially if the meeting is for brainstorming or decision-making.
2. Keep it short:
A meeting should be only as long as it needs to be to accomplish the primary objective. If you have a decision to make, focus on making that decision and then adjourn the meeting. If its to convey information (not usually recommended, but some cases require info-blast-style meetings) then focus on the one topic and don’t beat around the bush. Share the info, allow an opportunity for brief feedback, if necessary, and then adjourn the meeting.
3. Record the results:
All meetings should be recorded in some format. If it aligns with your company policy, or you get buy-in from all members, I genuinely recommend video/audio recording. But otherwise, written minutes should suffice. Distribute the key points from the meeting and, if you have it, the recording.
The point of the meeting is to accomplish a goal as a group, so the result of that goal should be communicated as soon as possible, while the meeting `is still fresh in everyone’s mind.
4. Keep on track:
This advice can be difficult to implement if you’re a junior member of the team or in your first role as a project manager, but meetings will go astray and its important that someone be responsible for keeping everyone on track. If you’re not comfortable doing this yourself, you can consider delegating the responsibility to a member of your team. But if small side conversations start, take a moment to remind everyone why you’re meeting and suggest that they share their discussion for a future time.
A Quick Aside:
I was once a project with a regularly scheduled bi-weekly progress meeting with the client.
The client ran the meeting and the agenda was nearly 10 pages long. We’d meticulously go through each item in the agenda, often stating nothing critical to update. Over 40 people were invited to these meetings with very few actually participating. This was during COVID lockdowns, so the meetings were held online and most cameras were off. I wouldn’t have been surprised to find half the attendees weren’t even actually present.
Our meetings were recorded and written minutes were distributed but we often wouldn’t get the minutes and recording until the day before the next meeting. It was a really inefficient use of the meeting protocol and it became very hard to keep track of what information had been shared.
It’s important to remember that meeting minutes are a key component of the project record, so its important that everyone get a chance to review and comment on them.
By adopting the appropriate structure for each type of meeting, you can maximize productivity, encourage collaboration, and make the most of your time together. In the final section of this blog post, we will recap the key takeaways and provide recommendations for further enhancing your meeting management skills.
Meetings are an essential part of any organization, providing a platform for collaboration, decision-making, and problem-solving. By understanding the true purpose of meetings and tailoring their structure to match their objectives, you can make the most of these gatherings and create a more efficient, effective, and enjoyable work environment.
Remember to carefully consider what should and shouldn’t be a meeting, utilizing alternative methods of communication like email, instant messaging, and project management tools to keep your team informed and engaged. By focusing on the best structure for different types of meetings, such as brainstorming, decision-making, and team alignment sessions, you can optimize your time together and ensure that your meetings contribute to your organization’s overall success.
By embracing these principles and continually refining your meeting management skills, you can create a culture of collaboration, communication, and productivity within your team, leading to better outcomes and increased job satisfaction for all involved. Not to mention, not wasting anyone’s time.
Until next time,