Meetings are not supposed to be just pain in the neck

5 min read time

Whether you work for a big multinational company, a small company or just having business partners meetings are inevitable. I’m sure you have had a feeling during or after a meeting that it was just a waste of time and this time could have been spent on something more useful. If so, this article is for you, keep reading it.

In the first part of this article, I will tell you how a general meeting looks like and what are the common mistakes. As my team and myself had first hand experience of such mistakes, in the second part of the article, I will show you how we dealt with them so you can learn from our experience and make your meetings more effective.

Purpose of a meeting is usually to deal with a problem, find answers on questions arisen in a given topic. Why does it require so many people? Most of you would probably tell that more people would deal with issues quicker and would be more effective. But let’s stop here for a moment. Is it really happening and if it so, couldn’t we be more efficient?

It’s likely that goals will not be reached. Often the desired results are unreachable too or if they are, its only with extra time. Not only I say this because I’ve been there and seen it, experienced it, but its also backed up by a number of surveys from around the world. These surveys quantify how big is the problem with a general meeting. For example, speaking about US only, businesses spend an average of 31 hours per month on meetings even though 47% of participants feels it as time wasting. Which means, that $37 billion a year will be thrown off by American companies in the trash. Since there are similar trends in Europe, it is not surprising that you probably know the feeling that you could have spent these hours with more useful things.

Okay, lets see how is an average meeting going on and what is wrong with it. In most of the cases, it will have a target date and in the best case the participants will be informed about the meeting in a timely manner including the expected topic. After the participants arrive, the meeting begins at the scheduled time and a conversation starts, and everyone is looking forward to finding a quick solution on the introduced topic. Unfortunately, this is impossible for many reasons. One of the biggest problems is that in many cases a meeting is organized when it is not really needed. One of the reasons is that in a number of corporate policies or project management processes, regular meetings can be mandatory, even on a daily basis. Also in many cases they will be kept accustomed, even if there is no relevant topic that would justify it. Another major problem with meetings is that they are not regulated and do not have a specific course. Human beings are creative by nature and able to create brilliant things, but if we are not placed within definite bounds we can not really work effectively, which is a huge mistake in a situation where efficiency is decisive. On the top, we loosing efficiency by only speaking about the issues, so even with greatest concentration some information might lost or become distorted that will eventually lead to errors which will only generate to new meetings.

We had to come to a conclusion, that the above mentioned problems effected our meetings and efficiency too and we wasted golden hours. The worst of it is that we not only wasted our own time but also wasted our partners time. In order to work out a much more functional system, we have looked at the problem from the foundations and sought a solution. We’ve been using a set of rules for some time and we’re keeping our meetings along.

For a feeling -Yay, we have been efficient- at the end of a meeting we don’t have to do a lot and its not rocket science, we only have to set up an easy rule system.

The first and most important rule is that we are only organizing a meeting if it is really justified and only for those who are involved in it or for whom the whole subject is really relevant. If there are more topics that we need to introduce on a meeting, then its better to organize two meetings, so only the relevant people will be involved. Forget the mandatory meetings that are held regularly at the same time. If we only change this in practice, we already have gained a lot.

If it is really justified to hold a meeting, then proceed according to the following rule set. It may be surprising, but its an important detail, that a meeting starts before the actual, scheduled meeting and in fact, it only comes to an end after the actual meeting when all have returned to their actions. Let me explain this: the person who organizes the meeting will begin by opening a new Meeting Notes.

After this:

Necessary to define its exact theme

  • What is the purpose? Here you have to define the main themes need to be answered at the end. Typically, more than three of these topics can not be discussed effectively on one occasion.
  • After having the main goals, it is necessary to combine the topic, ie. what questions and problems the participants should go through during the meeting in order to met these goals.

Exactly specify the beginning and end of the meeting

  • It is very important that you have a right time frame and you keep it in mind. This will help to keep the participants focus on the topics. To help to keep the time limit place a timer in a place visible to everyone.
  • A meeting longer than 1 hour should only be considered in justified cases.

Specify the location of the meeting

  • If the site can be used by other people too, it must be booked on the appropriate channel to make sure it is available at the scheduled time.

The meeting must be recorded in a calendar accessible to all participants.

Inviting and Informing Participants.

  • Only relevant people to the topics should be present.
  • Before each meeting, the topic must be shared with the participants so they can be well-prepared. It is important, because this way they can prepare solutions and shorten the brainstorming during the meeting. The appropriate solutions should be selected from the solutions proposed and presented.
  • If the date is not suitable for an invited guest, he or she must notify the organizer as soon as possible so that it can be modified if necessary.

Prepare the site appropriately before the meeting,

  • Ensure sufficient number of seats for the participants.
  • When required, the various technical devices need to be installed and tested to see if everything works properly
  • Provide a pleasant temperature as far as possible

If you’ve prepared everything properly, you’ve approximated an effective meeting with the team.

After all this the next most important thing is to make sure you starting the meeting in time.

Apart from a precise start, it is essential to give respect to each other. It means that:

  • You listen carefully to the speaker
  • You should not cutch somebody up in a speech and interrupt them
  • At every subject, each participant must be ensured to comment and tell his/her thoughts
  • Phone calls can only be answered in exceptional cases during the meeting

If all participants have arrived in time and are mentally prepared for the meeting, then the following rules are to be considered:

At the beginning, the roles have to be defined, which must be recorded in the meeting notes.

  • The meeting leader should be appointed. It is his/her responsibility to keep the conversation within the right frame to reach the set tasks.
  • The participant responsible for the management of the meeting notes must be appointed. It will be up to her/him to note the information mentioned during the meeting so that they will not be forgotten and available later.
  • The person responsible for keeping the meeting’s time frame should be appointed. She/He warns participants if they spiral out of the given time frame.

After roles have been appointed, the meeting’s leader must tell in headlines what topics are going to be discussed and what is the purpose of the meeting. When mentioning the topics the available time for the discussion also should be included.

The set agenda must be followed precisely

  • If a new topic arises and does not fundamentally affects the purpose of the current discussion, then it must be written down and discussed properly next time.
  • Only one topic at a time can be discussed. If the participants changing the topics frequently, it will give a hard time to everyone, especially to the meeting notes taker who will be unable to frame a proper notes. The outcome will be the next: confused participants, lost thoughts and wasting of time.

During the meeting, the person designated must keep the notes. This way its less likely to loose information comparing when making notes after the meeting.

  • In relation to certain questions all relevant information mentioned must be summarized and written down.
  • In all cases, when a deadline for a task is determined, it must be recorded.
  • In each case, if one or more people are assigned to perform a task, note that they are responsible for performing the task.
  • If new questions arise during the meeting, record them as open issues so that next time they can be solved if necessary.

Finish the meeting at a predetermined time. It is important to observe the specified timeframe, as this will encourage participants to be effective.

  • If the person responsible for scheduling does not follow exactly the frames, then anyone can warn him from the participants.

If necessary, determine the date of the next meeting in the end. In this case, of course, it is necessary to consider how much time needed for the tasks to be performed.

At the end of each meeting, participants should have a quick self-assessment where three questions have to be answered:

  • Was the meeting effective?
  • Have you managed to go all the way through the agenda?
  • What mistakes we had during the meeting?

We treat confidentially all information say it at the meeting unless something is specifically public information. It’s needed in favour in order to increase efficiency, not to burden others with information that are not relevant to them. At the same time, you should give access to the meeting notes for everyone who is interested in and entitled.

If you’ve succeeded in the above rules, you can say that the time spent on the meeting was not just time wasting and brought you closer to achieving the big goal. After this, the organizer has only one task left, sharing the meeting notes with the participants within 24 hours. Additionally, if open questions remain, it must be included in the next scheduled meeting’s agenda.

Now your first thought is probably that this is a lot of extra task and it will only require more time and energy for one meeting. But if you consider, you will see that these little things, which are probably not novelties, you just avoided to use these techniques deliberately and systematically so far. I do not say that for the first time it will be easy to follow these rules, but I guarantee that once you start applying them, you will have a positive effect from the beginnings, which will only improve your performance. If you are just a suffering subject of these meetings and you have no say in its course, but you consider this method to be good, then share it with your colleagues, leaders, or anybody you think might make a good thing out of it. You are doing a good thing with your company or your partners just as with yourself because you will attend on more effective meetings in the future. In less time you will be able to achieve more results than before. This will save you a lot of money, and ultimately everyone will feel more comfortable.

Bálint Benedek
Author - Bálint Benedek

Inflex’s in-house, full-time resources are committed to the success of our clients. We work in small, empowered teams focused on delivering valuable mobile and web developments for clients every day.

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