Improve your meetings with outcomes thinking

People in a meeting looking towards the camera. Improve your meetings
Improve your meetings

You’re all holding too many, ineffective meetings and judging from LinkedIn and Twitter you’ve had enough. I’m going to give you some tips to improve your meetings, make them more effective and to reduce the number you need.

At the start of lockdown I posted an observation that the increased number of meetings was a result of a basic human need to connect, the need to feel needed and the need for a distraction.  Two months in and many of you are still bemoaning the number of  meetings.  I’m not convinced that my initial argument is a complete explanation.

Having sat through thousands of meetings, I have a very simple hypothesis. Most of them are poorly conceived, poorly planned and poorly executed.  Remote working amplifies this.

What can you do to make sure yours don’t fall into the same trap?

The prep for many meetings goes little further than a deck to walk through. When you’re engaging several people for an hour or more, they deserve better preparation.

So where do we start to have fewer, more effective meetings?

My advice in most situations is to start with why. Why do you want a meeting and what outcome are you trying to achieve. This first step is critical and you should share it in advance with the proposed attendees. What will a successful gathering achieve?

Tip 1: Work backwards from your outcome

  • How will you get there?
  • What information do the attendees need in advance?
  • What will you need to do in the meeting to get the result?

Tip 2: Build your agenda

  • This is the heart of the prep. What discussions or activities will take place to achieve your goal?
  • How will those discussions flow?
  • For critical and large meetings it is worth spending extra time to dry run individual sessions
  • Allow a little slack in timings, but try to front load the big decisions so that you do not run out of time
  • Think about recording the outcomes. If you’re facilitating a big meeting you can’t scribe as well.
  • Consider using Liberating Structures techniques to help the meeting. As an example 1-2-4-All is very useful for inclusive discussion and to generate a broad range of ideas. Also, it transfers relatively well to remote settings and I’ve described its use in an OKR setting session on Felipe Castro’s blog.
  • Don’t waste time sharing updates. Get the attendees to read material in advance. You can answer questions in the meeting, but you have saved the time needed to run through the slides.
  • Most importantly share your agenda and pre-reading with the attendees as far ahead as you can. It gives them a chance to comment, prep and potentially identify gaps. Explicitly ask them if they think the goals are achievable.

Tip 3: Finishing your meetings

  • Make sure your outcomes are agreed and recorded before the attendees leave, share them in the meeting. Distributing minutes later often leads to confusion and disagreement.
  • Hold a retrospective for large/crucial meetings, even if you have to do it alone.

Some basic facilitation tips

  • Manage the clock carefully. Use a parking lot for discussions that don’t help with the meeting outcome.
  • In remote meetings sharing a timer can help focus people.
  • Aim to start 5 mins later than the scheduled start and 5 mins earlier than the scheduled finish. Work expands to use the available time, but give your attendees time for a break.
  • Empathise, try to ensure everybody contributes. Liberating structures can help, but you need to employ empathy. Cameras on in a remote setting will make your job easier, but it makes some people feel uncomfortable. Be kind and don’t force people to use a camera.

Finally. If the main purpose of the call is to help people feel connected, be honest and design the meeting with that in mind. It’s a reasonable goal if you’re struggling in this regard. Find a way to get everyone engaged and treat the attendees like individuals. Also realise that some people don’t need or want this kind of interaction. Make these meetings optional!

What other tips do you have to improve your meetings?