Six Principles for Effective Meetings

If, like many professionals, you spend between 1/3 – 2/3rds of your day in meetings, you want to get the very best from them. Yet sometimes meetings just aren’t as productive as you’d like; not everyone contributes equally, the purpose gets lost, and people can leave with a sense of frustration that time and energy has been wasted.

With some small - yet deeply significant - shifts in minds and behaviours, aided by simple - yet sometimes challenging - techniques, consistently applied, meetings can be transformed into highly productive and satisfying experiences. Where everyone plays a part, new ideas and solutions are generated, and meetings result in concrete decisions and actions that get followed through. 

1: Set an achievable agenda

Be clear on the meeting’s key purpose and seek participants’ input on the agenda well in advance. Outline any prep required for participants and set a stimulating question for each agenda item instead of a list of items. Decide in advance how you will cover the items so there's some variety, for example, invite them to think and discuss in pairs before they speak to the whole group, or do a round so that everyone can have a turn if they wish to, etc.

2: Make the place say, “we all matter”

Book a private room & remove clutter beforehand. If you must use PowerPoint do so sparingly - keep the focus on people not screens. Facilitate connection - arrange chairs so everyone can sit & can see each other and discourage electronic devices & external interruptions, regardless of status!

3: Maintain focus

Ask everyone to give genuine & full attention to the person speaking, and build in regular 5-minute slots for reading, reflection & note-taking. If you momentum or focus becomes lost, bring it back with a great question because the mind thinks best in the presence of a question. Make decisions after each item. If you can’t decide, park it & move on.

4: Encourage participation

Treat everyone’s time as equally precious. Use lots of rounds to give everyone equal & uninterrupted turns to speak, inviting (and if needed, reminding them) to be succinct so that everyone gets the chance and people continue to listen. Break people into pairs frequently to create safety & energise the quieter people - and ask everyone to allow time for people to think for themselves and to resist the urge to take over.

5: Generate brave new thinking

Invite all voices & ideas, including divergent or potentially unpopular ones, and be aware that a frown, a dismissive gesture or harsh words can kill an idea. Invite people to share any concerns or assumptions without fear of reprisal and test for the truth of statements - "Do we think that is true, and if so, why we do we think that? If not, why not?" and positively challenge limiting assumptions with, “What if we could?" or "What if we assumed X instead?”

6: Agree clear outcomes

Summarise decisions, actions, owners and timescales, agree next steps for parked items, check that everyone is clear on the outcomes and end with a round of appreciation for all that you have achieved together today!

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"A new idea is delicate. It can be killed by a sneer or a yawn; it can be stabbed to death by a quip and worried to death by a frown on the right man's brow."



So if you would like to create an environment in which people feel valued, equal, engaged and thus more likely to participate, create a shared sense of responsibility for the success of meetings, get the best thinking from everyone in the room, not just a few, and generate better ideas, solutions, decisions and commitment to following through agreed action, these steps will all help.

In so doing you will use time more efficiently so that meetings can be both quick and productive, enable differences of opinion to be voiced, respectfully and productively and create a positive culture that ripples out from the meeting.

You will soon learn that the way people behave with each other in meetings determines the quality of the thinking in them – and beyond. What have you got to lose? Loads. Wasted time, poor engagement, killed ideas and frustrated people. That's all!

© Linda Aspey 2018

Linda Aspey