Tuesday, July 03, 2018

Better Meetings

Someone recently asked me for tips on having productive meetings. For many, it is worth thinking about, and tuning up, our approach to meetings from time to time since we spend so much time in meetings. If we can squeeze a bit more productivity out of our time in meetings, it can really pay off.

Here’s some simple approaches that have been helpful for me for both 1-on-1 meetings and team meetings:

Have an Agenda

The best way to know that we are all on the same page is to have a page. Having an agenda doesn’t have to be a barrier to the sometimes-productive free flow and chasing down rabbit trails that happens in meetings, it merely gives people a sense of what we expect to cover.

For many, seeing what is on the agenda allows people to be at ease since there shouldn’t be any surprises. For others it helps them focus on the item at hand since they know that items that may be important to them are on the docket.

Have Some Categories

I have found it really handy to have a standard rubric for agenda.

For agenda that seemed to routinely have more items on the list than time would allow; I’d use these categories (in this order):

  1. Communication: Quick “heads up” items that folks in the meeting would benefit from knowing (not a circle brag… but the sort of things that might be in our silos that others ought to know). These items do not require deliberation or decisions.
  2. Strategy: These tend to be more big-picture and systemic items, the kinds of things that once settled will continue to payoff over time since a system is setup.
  3. Tactics: These are the one-off kinds of things that need to be discussed or solved.

Prioritizing an agenda according to categories helps keep the most important work on the front burner. It also incentivizes people to reframe what might be a tactical item as a strategic item, which could result in solving high-payoff systemic issues rather than dealing with similar recurring tactical issues.

There are all sorts of rubrics that could be used, here are a few others I’ve used:
  • Follow up (old business), Decisions, New Projects 
  • Discussion, Deliberations, Decisions

Share Access to the Agenda

Meeting participants should have access to the agenda as it is coming together. If the circumstances are suitable, I like to let people add their own items directly. I’ve used various file-sharing tools; my favorite these days are in the Google-Suite (Google Docs works well for meeting agendas, and Google Drive makes sharing easy). Use hyperlinks on your agenda to connect to supporting documents.

Sharing access gives people ownership, and allows them to be prepared to make the most of the meeting time.

Archive Agenda

I have found it really handy to archive agenda. While not minutes being able to go back and see an old agenda is handy.

Here’s how I do it. I set up a shared folder for each regular meeting. I call the agenda file “agenda” and just update that for each meeting; thus participants can easily find the agenda for the next meeting. Once the meeting is over, I save a copy (snapshot) of the meeting in an archive folder and then update the agenda file for the next meeting.

Respect the Clock

I tend to have the clock determine the length, start, and stop of the meeting rather than the agenda. People know that when I’m leading a meeting we are going to start and end on time, that we’ll have an agenda, and if we don’t manage to cover everything, whatever we don’t cover can wait until next time (because I’ve prioritized the agenda).

Be Sure to Connect

This is one that I’m still working at. It is easy for me to be so agenda-driven that I forget that an important part of the meeting is to connect with people. Since we often are working together in short bursts of electronic communication (text, emails, and such) meetings give us the interpersonal context and foundation for ongoing work. Five minutes or so of chitchat is an important part of most meetings.

Consider a Consent Agenda

A consent agenda is a handy tool for many meetings. Keep a list of consent items, linked to supporting documents whenever possible, for which the participants are responsible. Give participants the opportunity to pull anything off the consent agenda that needs discussion or deliberation, and then consider everything left on the consent agenda as understood and approved.

Have any feedback? Are there helpful approaches to meetings that you would like to share? Leave a comment below.