Many people spend more than half of their work week in meetings. With all that time invested, one would expect the meeting processes to be near perfect, yet effective meetings are hard to find.
The research on (in)effective meetings
Recent research confirms the problem. Online scheduling service Doodle studied 19 million meetings with more than 6,500 working professionals in the United States, United Kingdom, and Germany. The study showed that poorly organized meetings resulted in wasted time, lack of clarity about next steps, loss of focus, slower progress on projects, and weakened relationships. Combined, the negative outcomes of poor meetings cost US organizations $399 billion in 2019.
Besides their impact on the bottom line, ineffective meetings can drain people of their energy, zap morale, and lead to burnout. No organization can risk such implications now, when the Great Resignation is in full effect.
Many organizations want to improve their meeting experiences, but they don’t know how.
The components of effective meetings
Effective meetings begin with good planning, get better with active facilitation and troubleshooting, and continuously improve with reflective evaluation.
Would you give a presentation without preparing first, or deliver an important message without planning what you will say? Probably not. Treat every meeting you lead like a presentation or public speaking opportunity. The more time you spend planning for success, the better your chance for an effective meeting.
What makes a meeting successful? Part of planning is determining what outcome(s) you hope emerge from the meeting. Define success, and then create a roadmap to get there. Consider the following when planning your meeting:
- People. Who needs to attend the meeting? Having too many people at the table is one of the greatest sources of meeting ineffectiveness. Inviting those who do not need to be there wastes everyone’s time. Excessive voices can stall progress and bring confusion. Include only the people who are critical to achieving your meeting outcomes.
- Agenda. Why is this meeting taking place? List your goals for the meeting, all of which should lead to the meeting’s desired outcomes. Then, outline the meeting agenda in time increments, and assign relevant people to each agenda item. Finally, send the agenda at least a day or two ahead of the meeting so people have time to review and prepare.
- Pre-work. Maximizing time is a cornerstone of effective meetings. Perhaps it makes sense for attendees to read materials ahead of time or conduct personal reflection to prepare themselves for the work at-hand. Send these assignments several days ahead of the meeting and communicate the expectation that all attendees come to the meeting with this pre-work completed.
Meetings involve two or more people with two or more personalities, opinions, and ideas. Facilitating diverse voices is complex. Remember that as a facilitator, you are the meeting catalyst. Your voice should be heard least of all. Open-ended questions and active listening are your most-used tools as you encourage all attendees to share and listen to one another, too.
Reaching consensus during meetings includes facilitating discussion, considering various opinions, and guarding against groupthink. The DiSC personality assessment is one tool specifically designed to help nonprofit leaders facilitate effectively in a team environment. DiSC identifies and clarifies strengths and opportunities around team interactions. It can help to improve team dynamics, manage group conflict, and empower high performance.
Meetings are not over when the group adjourns. Adopt a continuous improvement mindset and take some time after each meeting to reflect on its effectiveness. Were the right people in the room or on Zoom? Did you meet your outcomes? Did you stick to the agenda, and if not, what caused you to veer off course? Write down post-meeting observations, lessons learned, and ideas for improvement. Making evaluation a habitual part of your meeting process will ensure increased effectiveness over time.
If you want to learn more about running effective meetings, I’m conducting a webinar for Tidewater Community College on February 22nd. You can learn more here.