It’s no secret that in the modern workplace, people hate meetings. There’s nothing more frustrating than racing to finish one of your dozen daily tasks when, suddenly, you are summoned to a bland office side room and subjected to two hours of counterproductive, soul-crushing banality. Especially when there aren’t even any biscuits.
But it doesn’t have to – and shouldn’t – be this way. Indeed, when done properly, meetings can be a highly effective tool. The key is to make them not just bearable but actually productive – and to ensure that the time everyone is spending away from their desks is not wasted.
So, how can this be done? Well, with some prior planning and a touch of common sense, actually. Here are a few essential tips on how to get the best out of your team meetings.
1. Ensure a Meeting Is Actually Necessary
In most cases, transparency throughout an organisation is a good thing. Letting staff know about the bigger picture should, of course, be encouraged. But do company updates really require everyone downing tools for an hour or can they be distributed via email instead? Or, if you’re using Trello boards where everyone can see individual progress on a particular project, do you really need to set up a meeting to ask people for status updates?
This may sound like common sense but teams still waste valuable time covering topics that don’t need to be discussed. This creates a negative attitude towards gatherings and it can start to be seen as a chore by workers rather than as an essential workplace activity. Try instead to only call meetings when you want to push something forward or where something important needs to be said as opposed to going over the same tired ground. Remember: having meetings is not a bad thing – but having too many is.
2. Start Your Meetings with a Bang
As you all traipse into the room and take your seats, chances are nobody is mentally prepared for the meeting. Most people will likely still be thinking about the task they’ve just been taken away from, whereas the rest will simply be hoping the next few hours aren’t too painful.
This is why it’s important to grab people’s attention quickly and focus their mind. You probably won’t achieve this by launching straight into a detailed microanalysis of Marketing’s latest quarterly projections, so instead try a short quiz or a brainteaser. It will relax people and channel their mind away from their work, as well as engage them in the overall process. Alternatively, play a funny video or tell an interesting story – anything to refresh and stimulate your team.
3. Have a Direction
‘Have an agenda’ is probably the most overused instruction in the team meeting rulebook – sanctified by some and ridiculed by others – but it does bear consideration. After all, it’s very difficult to achieve the goals of your meeting if you don’t know what those goals are.
The key is to know clearly what you want to happen and to stay on that course; a mantra that may sound sensible but overlooks the tendency of pretty much any meeting to drift hopelessly off-piste. To combat this – or at least contain it – it’s a good idea to nominate someone (either yourself or a colleague) to act as a watch-keeper and keep things moving in the right direction.
This doesn’t mean that you should shut down or ignore any good points just because they’re not related, though. If someone raises an issue that is worth discussing further but doesn’t tie in with the goals you’ve set, make a note to follow up on it afterwards or mark it down as a point for the next meeting.
4. Take Breaks
For shorter gatherings, this may not be applicable but for anything that stretches to an hour plus, it is vital to ensure everyone in the room can have at least one short break. It can be difficult to concentrate when you’re busting for the toilet or desperate for a cigarette, and it makes no sense to try and bounce ideas with people when they’re not physically comfortable.
It is also hard to take on large amounts of information and offer meaningful contributions when you’ve been at it for 40 minutes straight; even a couple of minutes for a quick leg stretch can reinvigorate people and give their brains a chance to look at things differently.
5. Engage ALL Your Team
One of the reasons meetings can sometimes fall flat is that it is always the same voices dominating on a weekly basis. Aside from the fact that this causes others to switch off, it also means that the full potential of the team is not being utilised. For example, one of your quieter, more introverted team members may have the perfect solution to a particular problem but may not feel comfortable to speak up and share it.
This is where the burden falls on whoever is in charge of the meeting to engage every single team member and get them to contribute – regardless of if their suggestions are good or bad. Whether this involves going around the room and simply asking people directly or something more gimmicky such as throwing around a plush toy, the important thing is that there are different ideas floating around and being heard.
6. Make Sure Everyone Has a Chance to Prepare
The problem with ‘brainstorming’ is that telling a group of people to be creative is often the easiest way to kill any shred of innovation. Rather than putting people on the spot, plan ahead. As soon as you book a meeting room, give team members as much notice as possible to come up with at least one solution to a particular problem on their own and then during the meeting focus on actually choosing the best one.
People are far more likely to come up with better ideas when they are given the space and time, and rather than sitting together in a room trying to hammer together the first plan that comes to mind, the group can take the time to discuss and analyse what the best course of action would be.
7. Change the Setting Now and Then
Remember when you were in school on a sunny day and the teacher would sometimes take the class outside instead of forcing everyone to linger miserably indoors? Well, you can adopt this approach to meetings, too. In fact, relaxing in a sun-bathed park is far more likely to engage everyone’s creative spark than being huddled in a small taupe side room gazing jealously out of the window.
Of course, this isn’t always practical – especially if there are team members connected remotely such as via Hangouts. But the principle is the same. Discussing strategies over lunch at Nando’s might be a little clichéd but at least the view is different – and the WiFi is free!
Meetings are a great way of working together to solve issues and problems, as well as ensuring everybody is on the same page and pulling in the right direction. But, often, they can take you away from more important matters and feel like a waste of time – especially when Roger from Accounts has his weekly rant about his mug being used.
Instead, by following the guide above, you can negate a lot of what turns people off about mid-afternoon get-togethers and focus on ensuring the time you spend together as a team is as productive, worthwhile and successful as meetings were originally intended to be.
Do you have any other tips to make sure meetings run smoothly? Let us know in the comments below…