MEETINGS provide a valuable forum for a range of different functions, helping people to share ideas, make decisions, build team relationships, and even feel less lonely at work. I have attended a lot of meetings and many of them were routine like weekly or monthly staff meetings and other unplanned meetings. Some of them where boring and not effective at all. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind meetings, in fact let me rephrase that — I don’t mind productive meetings. Planning and running an effective meeting is crucial to any company or organisation.

Why have a meeting at all?

Over the years the word “meeting” in many organisations has come to be associated with wasted time and boredom. This question underlines the need for a specific purpose. Some meetings have a longstanding purpose: an example is the daily morning briefings at police stations at which officers are briefed about recent developments before they begin their duties.

Meetings that do not have any such ongoing purpose need to have their true purpose defined clearly. Meetings are vitally important — if done well. Meetings help people feel included, trusted, and that they are important team members, as well as giving them the opportunity to contribute to the success of our companies.

Have an agenda

Why are agendas important in a meeting? One answer is that business meeting that have no agenda are likely to have less direction and be less productive than more structured meetings with a present list of discussion topics. Meetings without a firm direction may stray off topic, leading to few tangible or useful results.

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Meeting participants may become disengaged if meeting strays from relevant topics, which can set a poor precedent for future meetings.

If participants feel that meetings are unfocused and contribute little to their work, they may decide to skip future meetings. This is also true with internal meetings, you should be prepared and have an agenda to discuss.

Meet when necessary

I know this sounds like a no brainer but, there are lots of people who call meetings for everything. Don’t call a meeting when a phone call will do. Or say you need to have a meeting to avoid dealing with an issue.

There are only three real reasons to have a meeting: to convey information, to identify problems, and to make decisions. The danger of just calling a meeting without planning or having agenda is that they shift from their main focus, take too long, do not actually produce the change they intend to bring, and are actually where managers or superiors just tell their subordinates what to do and when to do it.

Don’t ambush participants

If you expect others to talk or present, tell them in advance.  When you put out that agenda, let the participants know if you expect something from them.  If you want a person to bring the latest data or information, let them know.  If you want people to come prepared to make a decision, tell them.  For meetings to be effective and interesting, participants should get to know each other.

It is very crucial to encourage and stimulate discussion among participants. It is important in a meeting to ensure that everyone has had the opportunity to be heard. An effective meeting is where people are interested and engaged.

Managing distractions, etiquette

Distractions can mess up a meeting if not handled well. Smartphones and texts should not be excuses to mentally or physically leave a meeting. When we bring our devices to a meeting, it’s to help us be more efficient and productive, not interrupt the meeting.

 Manage sounds on your devices. Unless it’s an emergency, most of the calls we get during meetings can wait until after it’s over. There’s no need to interrupt the meeting to take a call so it’s key to set a ground rule that every phone should be put on silent mode or better still, turned off.

You can also mention that if anyone has to urgently take a call, they may quietly leave the room and answer it outside or in the break area. If need be, you can tell a colleague prior to the meeting that you’ll be unavailable for the next hour and get back to them then.

Stick to time

Timing is essential: ask for someone to keep track of time. If the meeting is supposed to last one hour, the timer can alert when there are still 15, 10 and finally five minutes to go. When holding meetings, you should be disciplined and start the meeting on time, regardless of attendance.

This will help you run to time and encourage participants to arrive promptly at future meetings. Meetings should be brief and should only include relevant details for the agenda. It should be noted that even the best-planned meeting may end up boring and time consuming, especially if the discussion gets disrupted and diverges from the meeting agenda. Most of the meetings fail here. To avoid that, the chairperson should always be ready to redirect the participants to the agenda of the meeting. He or she is supposed to list down the main points to be discussed and stick with them, establish ground rules and a specified time portion for each item on the agenda list.

 Keep minutes

Minutes are not a transcript of everything that was said during a meeting. Instead, they are a summary of the main points attendees discussed and the subsequent action points that they decided upon. Creating a record of what action was taken and what needs to be done is important during meetings. The minutes must be entirely neutral and not express any preference of ideas or attendees. The document you produce should provide an unbiased overview of the discussions had and the decisions made.

Summarise key decisions, actions

Tasks and action items are the most important outcomes of a meeting. Many a time people leave the meeting without clarity about what was agreed upon and who will do what and when. Sharing a summary of the meeting is very crucial as it gives direction and helps, especially when doing follow-ups for the next meetings. Doing the aforementioned is important as it helps to clarify and have the participants focused, enabling them to make clear decisions and move on.

Closing remarks

There is almost always one last thing to say, even after the closing remarks. The end of the meeting is also the time to thank anyone who has not been thanked at the beginning of the meeting, or anyone who deserves a second thank you. In the closing remarks, the chairperson, or participants may want to discuss the date and time for the next meeting, when the minutes will be available, or when a decision should be made.

“Let’s schedule a meeting” has become the universal default at workplaces. Meetings are very important, but it does not mean that they are always productive. It’s important to first learn how to run successful meetings before expecting everything to go smoothly.