Running Effective Meetings

Most people never learn how to properly facilitate and plan for meetings, and as a result, a good chunk of meetings are deemed boring and unnecessary. This is partly because very few people have had any form of training on how run effective meetings. The purpose of this blog post is to give you some practical pointers on how to improve meetings.

What is the Desired Outcome?

When you look at it, the most important part of scheduling a meeting is to understand what the desired outcome should be, but in reality, we are lucky if we even have a vague idea of what we want to achieve. In order to change this, we need to shift our thinking so that we specify the detailed desired outcomes.

For example, instead of stating that the outcome of the brainstorming session would be to get ideas on how to solve a particular problem, you could instead say that your goal is to have three ideas that will be suitable to prototype in the next sprint for each team member. This will make things more specific, tangible and easy to see if you haven't achieved the desired outcome, in which case you can then decide what to do next. To do this, you need to put some thought and planning before the meeting to ensure that you use everyone's time in the most effective manner.

Alignment vs Information Sharing

In the business world we see a lot of people having weekly status meetings to determine how everyone is going. The goal here is to achieve alignment so that everyone is on the same page, and while the intention is good, it often lands up becoming an information sharing session. This is typically not a good reason to have a meeting. If it lands up becoming and FYI meeting, then a better alternative is to have an information radiator, such as a dashboard, or to even send out a status update. Meetings are only one form of communication, and often the most expensive in terms of time and money, so see what other alternatives there are.

Alignment meetings are ones in which you try to get a shared understanding on complex information

When you have a lot of complex information that needs input from various parties, then that is a good reason to have an alignment meeting. If you focus on aligning yourself as opposed to sharing information, your outcomes will be much better. On reading this, it struck me that this is essentially what is happening in most stand up meetings; they turn into information sharing sessions. This often results in people becoming bored and not paying attention. I can vouch for this as it has happened to me numerous times in the past. Instead, what we should be doing is to try get alignment on achieving a specific set of goal(s) for the day and how we will go about achieving this. I personally believe that this would be much more beneficial to the team as a whole.

The Three Kinds of People

Once you have the set the desired outcome for the meeting, it is much easier to identify whom should be involved. This will typically boil down to three broad categories, which are as follows:

These are people whom you need to get information from. They often don’t need to be part of the meeting, as you just need to get some details or approval from them beforehand. For example, you may just need to talk to your HR department to see if a particular person will be available for a client, or to see if some technology can achieve a desired goal. This is one of the reasons that people get invited to meeting in which they land up contributing very little and feel like it is a waste of time.

These are the people who you need to notify after the meeting has finished. Again, they don't need to be part of the meeting, they just need to know the outcomes. For example, you may just need to let your team know as to what the way forward is with the project.

These are the people who are required to attend the meeting. Typically, these are people who have the information that needs to be wrestled with, and discussed, to achieve the desired outcome.

Again, planning beforehand and identifying the people before the meeting will go a long way in running a productive, efficient meeting.

Handling Meeting Requests

Often we will receive meeting requests that are vague and you aren't sure if you actually need to be a part of the meeting, or if it will be a good use of your time. In situations like this, you can do any of the following:

  • Ask in a non-aggressive way, such as "I want to make sure that I'm prepared for this meeting, so could you help me understand what it is about?" or "I want to make sure that I am prepared, so could you explain what you want to achieve in this meeting?".
  • You could also ask "If I understand correctly, the outcome of this meeting it to achieve X. Is that correct?"

In asking these questions it will allow the organizer to think about their desired outcomes in a more concrete way and you will be better informed to see if you will be able to contribute to the meeting in a meaningful way. In some instances you may even be able to not go to the meeting by contributing ahead of time. Essentially, you turn yourself into the consulted role above.

Overall, it may seem that you are pushing a rock up a hill when it comes to properly planning a meeting, but in the long run it will definitely be worth it.

Until next time...keep learning!!!

Mauro Da Silva

Learning everyday about software development, leadership & self improvement

Perth, Australia