Make Meetings Great Again

Credit: Free-Photos-242387 @ Pixabay

“I can’t believe we just had that pointless meeting.” is a thought that everyone has encountered at least a dozen times in their lives. Nothing is worse than showing up to a meeting that ends up being re-scheduled because the required person is missing or the material wasn’t ready. The majority of meetings we have are low value, but not all meetings are terrible. Good meetings do happen, and they accomplish a propose. Let’s make meetings great again.

How to have Great Meetings

There are different types of meetings such as:

  • Status updates
  • Decision-making
  • Knowledge sharing
  • Problem-solving
  • Team bonding

All of these types have an apparent reason why people have gathered together. If the meeting goes well, its propose is completed and is valuable to everyone who attended.

An agenda is essential for every meeting for everyone to know what the meeting is supposed to go through. It should contain at least the following items:

  • Pre-meeting work to do such as documents to review
  • The meeting’s propose
  • What are the agenda items and who are the presenters with allotted time
  • Who the required attendees are

Having an agenda informs all attendees on what they need to do before, during, and after the meeting. It also gives optional attendees a preview so they can decide if they need to be at the meeting or not.

A meeting needs a moderator whose job is to make sure everyone is on point and isn’t straying away from the meeting’s propose and the agenda.

Having a meeting longer than one hour has diminishing returns because people’s attention span starts to decay over time and biological needs such as using the restroom start to creep in. If a meeting is anticipated to take longer than an hour, separate them into a series of shorter meetings.

Suggested meeting lengths: 15, 30, or 60 minutes.

  • 15 minutes are great for status meetings
  • 30 minutes is suitable for team bonding or decision-making meetings
  • 60 minutes for knowledge solving or problem-solving

The meeting organizer decides on the appropriate length. If the meeting items run out, it’s good to end the meeting early rather than filling up the entire time.

Productive meetings should end with action items with due dates. Scheduling a follow-up status meeting or putting action items into a task tracking system helps to assure action items gets done. There could be a great meeting with a lot of decision made, but the value diminishes if people don’t follow up on action items.

Here’s a simple template: First 5–10 minutes to state propose, agenda, and attendees. Go through the agenda items. Last 5–10 minutes to wrap up with questions and action items.

Additional Considerations

One of the most debated and controversial things is to start a meeting on time or give people five extra minutes to show up. There isn’t a correct way, and it’s really up to the organizer’s preference. Do what works best for your attendees and work culture.

Similar to a flashing light for a stand-up comedian, attendees need to hold themselves and each other accountable for the time spent talking. A status meeting where someone speaks unnecessarily for a very long time derails the meeting. For speakers during a knowledge sharing meeting, it’s best to rehearse beforehand so that it will help determine how much time is needed.

Showing up at a meeting and finding out the meeting is rescheduled because a required attendee isn’t coming is a waste of everyone’s time. Easily avoided if the meeting organizer rescheduled ahead of time. Make sure everyone who is needed will be there and ready.

Jeff Bezos’ “Two Pizza Rule” is you shouldn’t have a meeting where you can’t feed the attendees with two pizzas. It’s a good read on why meetings should be kept small. It’s easier to have everyone to express their opinions and make decisions.

Phone-in meetings are shallow value, and they aren’t as useful as in person or webcam meetings. The attendee(s) could be working, browsing the internet, watching cat videos, or some other distraction instead of paying attention.

People like to have an opportunity to express their opinions and know that it was considered. Abruptly dismissing someone’s voice causes the person to view the meeting as pointless if they are ignored. Answer questions and further explain things at the tail end if there is time. If there isn’t time, talk to the person privately afterward to understand their perspective.

End the meeting on a positive outlook such as using a quote or phrase.

Onwards and upwards to better meetings!

Engineering leader. Software Developer. Problem solver. Failing forward.

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