We’ve all been in long, over-crowded meetings where it seems like nothing ever gets done and it’s just a waste of time. But meetings shouldn’t be wasting your time! They should be helping you do your job better. That’s why it’s so important that you have effective meetings where decisions are made, action items are assigned, and the next steps are clear. We realize that time spent in meetings is time that isn’t being spent getting work done; therefore, the meetings that we do have should be as efficient and effective as possible.
Conducting effective meetings isn’t just about what goes on in the meetings, but also involves planning before the meeting and follow-up afterward. The following are key areas of the meeting life-cycle that we recommend you try and address to improve your IT meetings:
Area 1: Planning
If you regularly organize and lead meetings, you know that prior preparation and communication are key to the success of these meeting types. Failure to properly organize and communicate meeting objectives is a sure fire way to get your team stuck in the meeting mud.
The first question you should ask yourself is “do we need a meeting for this?” Not only do people not want to be trapped in meetings all day long, but meetings prevent work from getting done. Consider that a weekly hour long meeting with 10 participants making an average salary of $50,000 per year will cost their company over $13,000 over the course of a year. Is it possible to accomplish your goals without having a meeting? If so, then don’t have a meeting.
If you decide that a meeting is necessary, one of the easiest and most impactful things to do during the planning phase is to send out an agenda to all of the participants in the calendar invite. The agenda should list the main talking points as well as how long each will take. By including the agenda, meeting participants are able to prepare materials and decide if they need to even attend the meeting or not. Remember: it is all right to decline meetings if you don’t think it will be worthwhile to attend, and that is much easier to determine if there’s an agenda describing what will be discussed. Before sending out the calendar invite you should ask yourself who needs to be invited and try to minimize the number of attendees without diminishing the effectiveness of the meeting.
As the meeting organizer you must make sure that you are fully prepared for the meeting as well. Sometimes this means talking to individuals beforehand to get answers to relevant questions (e.g. how does system X integrate with system Y?), while other times it means running a report that will be discussed in the meeting (e.g. running a bug report). If you don’t come prepared for your own meetings, then no one else will feel obligated to be prepared either.
Area 2: Execution
The objective of most meetings should be to make decisions and/or assign action items. With the exception of quick status meetings (which should take less than 10 minutes) meetings need to have a goal that should be clear from the set agenda.
It’s important that you start your meetings on time so that all topics can be discussed and, most importantly, the meeting can be finished on time. Everyone has a busy schedule and your meeting is no more important than any other meeting. If you respect peoples’ time they will greatly appreciate it.
During the meeting either you or someone else must take notes that can be distributed after the meeting. The notes should include:
- Attendance: who is at the meeting, who was invited but did not attend
- Key points: the easiest way to do this is using a bulleted list
- Decisions: the decisions agreed upon
- Action items: the task, due date, and person that the task is assigned to
- Parking lot items: any topics that were not addressed and need to be discussed later
Taking notes will also help the meeting stay on subject and on schedule. If someone starts talking off-subject, kindly tell them that you are adding that item to the parking lot to be discussed at a later time. The idea behind the parking lot is that the agenda items can be discussed and the goal of the meeting can be accomplished without being thrown off track by unrelated items. If there’s time at the end of the meeting, the parking lot items can be addressed; otherwise, these topics can be discussed outside of the meeting or in a separate meeting. The key is to keep the meeting focused and running on time.
At the end of the meeting, spend about a minute giving a quick recap of the decisions as well as the action items assigned to each person. This makes sure that everyone is on the same page and understands what the next steps are.
Area 3: Follow-Up
After the meeting is completed the notes should be sent out to everyone invited to the meeting, regardless of whether they attended the meeting or not. The reason for this is to keep everyone informed of the decisions, action items, and takeaways from the meeting, which will ultimately cut down on time spent in future meetings. Furthermore, if there is a follow-up meeting on the same subject then the notes can be referenced so that the same topics and/or issues are not discussed over and over again.
It is your responsibility to follow-up with people who were assigned action items in your meeting. People are often working multiple projects or initiatives, so it is easy to get sidetracked onto something else and forget about the action items that were assigned in your meeting. Sending a reminder email to that person a day before the action item is due will help ensure that tasks are completed on time.
Area 4: Analysis & Improvement
Periodically you should take a look at what meetings you’ve attend in the last few weeks or months and ask yourself “what can we be doing better?” Are there daily or weekly meetings that only result in wasted time and can be canceled? Are there meetings that can function effectively without you or have you organized meetings that don’t need everyone to attend? Are you discussing things over and over again in meetings that were already decided on previously?
If you are not constantly reviewing your meeting routine, there’s less likelihood of improvement.
Running effective meetings can only be achieved with proper planning, execution, and follow up. Start out simple by sending an agenda out to participants and distributing meeting notes. Just doing those two simple things will have a huge impact on improving your meetings, and then you can focus on some of the other ways to improve.