Imagine if everyone left your meetings feeling good about what was accomplished. Is it wishful thinking, or can you design your meetings in advance for optimal results?
There’s a lot you can do to set your meetings up for success. There are thousands of books and articles out there on how to run effective meetings, and lot of them focus on what happens in the meeting room. Here are six ideas on how to optimize your meetings before they happen.
- Send agenda, desired outcomes, and discussion questions in advance. Train folks to come prepared. Ask all attendees to read the materials and consider discussion questions in advance. Use discussion questions to clarify what you want people to contribute to the meeting. (Example: “In what areas do you think the team could improve our customer satisfaction ratings?”) Note: If people tend to arrive at meetings unprepared, then this shift won’t happen overnight. Consistently communicate the assumption that everyone’s read the materials and the change will happen over time.
- Be thoughtful about who and how many to invite to a meeting. Different kinds of meetings need different numbers and types of people. Do you need to brainstorm? Invite more people. Need to make a decision. According to Marcia W. Blenko, Michael C. Mankins, and Paul Rogers, authors of Decide & Deliver: 5 Steps to Breakthrough Performance in Your Organization, once you’ve got seven people in a decision-making group, each additional member reduces decision effectiveness by 10 percent. Tip: At Integrated Work, we often stagger attendance at our meetings. If a person only needs to weigh in during part of the meeting, they can leave after their part concludes while the rest of the group continues.
- Minimize reporting, maximize interaction. Meetings are still often the default for conveying status updates. But with so many technology options available, it’s hard to justify bringing people together just to hear about what others are working on. As much as possible, save in-person meetings for brainstorming, problem solving, decision-making, and celebrating. Use emails, project management software, etc. for status updates.
- Schedule the meeting for 15-30 minutes less than you think you need. Generally, a lot of time is wasted during meetings; tightening up the schedule helps people speak more efficiently, and a little bit of urgency can boost creativity and productivity. This strategy requires you to stick to your schedule and show that you’re serious about staying on time. Add estimated times to each session of your agenda–if people know they have only 10 minutes to speak, they’ll get to the point fast.
- Strategically assign roles ahead of time. Giving people different jobs during the meeting can help structure interaction. For example, give a timekeeping role to someone who needs to build confidence. If someone tends to sit back and relax, assign them the role of facilitator. Does someone consistently dominate the conversation? Ask them to take notes this time. Setting the norm of rotating roles can help build skills, balance participation, and keep things interesting.
- Meet in a room with natural light. A 2011 study by the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology found that people who spend more time in natural lighting than artificial lighting have increased energy, productivity and alertness–all good things to have in a meeting. Consider a walk-and-talk to allow people to break into small discussion groups outdoors. Just don’t forget to give them a specific time to return to the meeting room.