Meetings are a waste of time, according to a certain sentiment found particularly in the tech startup sector. Respectfully, we call that sentiment BS. Human beings function as a species because of our advanced capacity to interact – like during a meeting.
Of course, for the busy small business person, it’s hard enough to squeeze in the time to attend that meeting, never mind find the planning time – at the front and back end.
“Many business people don’t properly plan their meetings, so of course they’re a waste of time,” says Sharon Ranson, president of The Ranson Group. Meeting management is one of the areas of focus for Ranson when she coaches executives and others in the organizations they lead.
Meetings matter because they:
- Align strategy, goals and tactics
- Improve accountability and results
- Build relationships and trust
- Improve communication (more than 90 per cent of the information absorbed by the human brain comes from the non-verbal cues and emotional nuance derived from facial expressions, body language, vocal tone and pacing)
- Provide for social interaction
Leveraging the substance from a well-managed meeting, which includes ensuring they are not a waste of everyone’s time and that they produce results, requires a bit of a rethink. Ranson promotes thoughtful focus on what happens before and after every meeting.
Before the meeting:
- Set a clear purpose
- This provides structure and clarity for every attendee to ensure they can contribute what’s needed
- The purpose could be to inform, persuade, inspire, decide, motivate, advise, entertain or refer
- Create the structure for the meeting
- Put together an agenda and share it in advance
- Schedule an appropriate time of day
- Engage with key participants in advance of your meeting to
- Build rapport
- Introduce the ideas for the meeting
- Communicate the purpose in advance
- Get early feedback
- Identify your call to action
- Decisions required
- Next steps
- What you want each person attending the meeting to do
During the meeting:
- Restate the purpose of the meeting at the start
- Respect the schedule and timing – if you establish the expectation for an hour-long meeting, it is bad form (and gives rise to the bad reputation meetings have) to let it carry on for three
- Encourage engagement and input. What do participants know? What do they think? What do they need? What do you need to learn?
- Make the call to action
After the meeting:
- It isn’t over just because the meeting has ended
- Send out a summary of the purpose, decisions taken and action items
- Follow up on all the deliverables
- Continue to engage and interact with participants to build those relationships
- Say thank you!
The meetings that produce results focus on conversations, the exchange of knowledge, opinions, information and wisdom of all those in attendance.
Author, management consultant and educator Peter Drucker said: “Efficiency is doing things right. Effectiveness is doing the right things.”
What about technology? A common trap is mistaking efficiency for effectiveness. It might be more efficient to rely on some of the powerful apps or customer relationship management (CRM) systems to electronically connect with team members, instead of holding a meeting. But it is not possible to replace what’s lost when you don’t have the opportunity to see faces, hear voices and observe body language. So if need be, use technology to organize the details and if an in-person meeting isn’t possible, a virtual, video meeting is better than not holding a meeting at all.
Equally important when planning for effective meetings is the ability to distinguish between circumstances that would benefit from a meeting and those that don’t require one.
Use these guidelines to determine whether you really do need a meeting:
- You want to align tasks with objectives
- You want to paint a common, big-picture perspective that goes beyond individual areas of responsibility
- You can see value in jointly reaching a decision
- The task at hand requires group collaboration
- You want to strengthen relationships and build trust
If it’s your meeting, you are responsible for the planning. Meetings are only a waste of time if you allow them to be.
Between them, Boni and John Wagner-Stafford have five decades of experience as entrepreneurs and/or providing consulting services to other small businesses across Canada.