Have you ever found yourself in a room with people discussing the internal test server’s footer size, or some other similarly insignificant detail? Making things worse, did you go to the meeting because you thought you were finally going to make a decision about that business proposition that could make or break the company?
In my experience it is very easy to have a meeting derail and turn into a complete train wreck. If the person leading the meeting fails to be disciplined, or come ill prepared, the risk is even greater.
Purpose and Agenda
A meeting should always have an expressed purpose or goal that is known to participants prior to the meeting. This is not the same as an agenda. The agenda should guide the meeting towards the goal.
When the meeting begins it is a good idea to remind everyone of the purpose.
Participants should be selected so that the purpose can be achieved. Including people that do not contribute to the purpose being fulfilled only increases the risk of derailing.
Similarly, failing to invite a person required to achieve the goal, is equally unproductive.
The chairman must have mandate to actually lead the meeting. This includes having the authority to cut off irrelevant discussions and steer the meeting towards its purpose.
This can be extra tricky when higher ranking managers participate. The chairman may hesitate to interrupt higher ranking individuals. On the other hand, they may have to participate to fulfill the purpose. If they are not: Do not invite them.
Time box the meeting to increase the chance of it being productive. If participants start to go astray, remind them of the time box and also the purpose.
Meeting discipline is important. This is primarily the responsibility of the chairman, but if enough people wander off it helps little if the chairman tries to maintain order. In my experience managers are more inclined to stray, maybe because they are more used to, and feel more confident, talking in front of the group.
To sum it up, keep the following three things in mind:
- Always prepare the meeting well. Do not forget to formulate and distribute the purpose of the meeting, together with an agenda.
- Only invite people necessary for the meeting’s purpose.
- Most importantly: Successful meetings are a team effort. Everyone needs to be on board and adhere to meeting rules.
In an upcoming post I will give a suggestion for meeting guidelines.