Few words bring such strong negative reactions as ‘business meeting’. As companies analyze their meeting times against results they often throw up their hands in disgust and conclude that meetings are a waste of time and of no use. Not so fast. While it is true that not having a meeting may be better than having a bad meeting, it does not follow that the business meeting itself is to blame. No matter how good the idea, if those that execute the plan fail then the project itself fails.
‘It’s a bother, it’s a pain, so little gets done, same old stuff, nothing ever happens, it’s always a bore, it lasts too long, and all we do is sit and listen to one or two people drone on about the company’s woes.’ Whine, whine, whine. Case closed.
And that’s the most difficult part; overcoming apathy and boredom from employees and managers that are jaded after continued exposure to bad meetings. It makes starting a meeting difficult and gaining momentum from that meeting even more difficult. The best place to start is to determine what results you would like to have from the meeting. This will guide you in determining the agenda.
The agenda should be written with a time allotted to each item. Meetings should rarely go over an hour especially if they start on time. Start exactly on time and you will ensure promptness at the next meeting. After each agenda item put the person responsible for reporting or moderating that agenda item so that someone ‘owns’ that agenda item. If you are starting business meetings make it a goal to spread the agenda items out to different meeting participants.
The first agenda item should be something light and not nuts and bolts financial. I like to bring up items such as image and attitude here. The last agenda item should be the next meeting’s time and place.
Don’t overload the agenda with too many items or too many heavy stress items if that is avoidable. If the business meeting becomes too negative it can dampen whatever enthusiasm it generates. Some agenda items can be ‘rolled’ over into the next agenda. Try to vary your agenda items for each meeting to keep the agenda fresh. That also means you should be discussing relevant and current topics.
Plan your agenda to end on an upbeat note. You really want the last impression of the meeting to be a positive one. If the meeting ends on a sour note it will leave a sour taste. If participation is important try to get each person present in the meeting to say something. This may be difficult at large meetings but in smaller groups it creates the impression of being a part of the meeting. Meeting participation can be a goal itself.
Some people tend to speak more than others so don’t let one or two people do all the talking. Especially you. It is best to have a moderator or leader. This person is responsible for opening and closing the meeting as well as making certain the agenda moves along in a timely manner.
It is possible to rotate moderators from meeting to meeting. This depends on the meeting participants, their capabilities and their willingness to participate.
Do not expect too much change too fast. It has been my experience that it might take several months of weekly meetings to reach desired results. And it is best not to create unrealistic expectations up front as they may sabotage your efforts.
It’s OK to disagree and disagreements often make for excellent meetings. As the moderator, it is your job to maintain calm and control. If everyone is yawning a good disagreement might even wake them up. After each meeting do a self-evaluation on how the meeting went. What could have done better? What went right? What did not go as expected?
And stay persistent. It is very hard to change either individual or group behavior and that’s what meetings are mostly about. Some call it behavior modification but perhaps changing the range of behaviors is more appropriate. Some call it training or education. And sometimes it’s art and sometimes it’s science but seldom is it predictable.
Often it doesn’t always work as planned. If you have a bad meeting shrug it off and see how you can improve the next one. Also try to stay in the right frame of mind and perspective so you don’t get frustrated too quickly.
There is no right or wrong way to have a meeting; just ways that make meetings more effective. The best strategy to make your meeting effective is to open it up, do what it takes to get participation and work through a relevant and prioritized agenda. Go with your gut and don’t be afraid of taking small risks to keep momentum. Even if you flop folks will see you are sincere and good things will happen.
The results just might surprise you.