A successful meeting starts with good preparation. Preparing (for) the meeting is not only the responsibility of the organiser. Everyone must play their part.
Assuming a meeting is needed or unavoidable, a good meeting invitation should contain all the necessary information.
Of course the date, time and place (physical or virtual) but also the topic, agenda, goal, audience, context, output. The organiser needs to clearly identify these elements and state them in the invitation.
Here an informal checklist for the organiser with a few questions that might help.
- – The topic: why is the meeting taking place?
- – The goal: what is the desired output or outcome that participants will try to achieve? This is also what needs to happen (at a minimum) by the end of the meeting to say that the meeting has been “successful”.
- – The audience: who are the right people to include in order to achieve the goal? Decision makers, subject matter experts, advisors, stakeholders… Are there too many participants? Hypothetically, if you need more than 2 pizzas* to feed the audience, the answer is probably yes.
* “No meeting should be so large that two pizzas can’t feed the whole group“.The Amazon’s Two Pizza Rule for maximising meeting effectiveness
- – The agenda: what are the steps that are needed to be completed to achieve the goal? What are the heuristic, methods, tools? E.g. Data-Driven Decisions.
- – The context: what is the relevant information or documents that need to be shared with the audience prior to the meeting?
- – When and where: what is the best time? Are there any date or time constraints? Is there enough time for attendees to review the documents before the meeting? Will someone in a different time zone connect remotely? Is there a room with the right capacity available? Any instrument to be tested ahead of time? Link to conference to be added? Will the room be ready?
- — Optionals: is there anyone that, although non-essential for the success of the meeting, should be informed or invited as optional? Have you checked the availability of attendees in the scheduler tool? If you can’t find a time that is good for everyone, give priority to the essential people.
- — Scheduling tools: are you aware of tools that let participants vote or choose the ideal times? If tools are not available to you, can you send out an email to achieve the same result? For example, in Microsoft Outlook, you can use FindTime plugin, or voting buttons.
The invitation needs to include all the above information in a succinct but specific way. The topic or the goal can be the subject of the invitation. Agenda and goal needs to be explicit in the body of the invitation. Context and documents need to be relevant, succinct, attached to the invitation.
Here an informal checklist for the attendees (after receiving the invitation).
- – Goal and agenda: Read these carefully. You want to be able to assess whether or not you should take part in the meeting. The first thing you need to decide is not if you are available to attend the meeting but if you are needed or useful to achieve the goal.
- – Your participation: if you are not strictly needed to contribute to the meeting goal, challenge the organiser. Ask him something like “I see you invited me to… but I don’t think I can help. Is there anything I am missing? Why do you think I am needed?” If you notice someone should be there and is not invited, another way to challenge the organiser is to suggest missing attendees.
Extra tip: do not reply to all saying a meeting is not needed. Your view may be too narrow and your information incomplete. Whilst you should challenge the organiser regarding your attendance, you should not speak on behalf of others and both parties would not want to go back and forth with long threads or debates.
As soon as you figure out these first answers, you can decide if you will participate or decline the meeting. Most of the people who complain that “there are too many meetings” never or rarely use the decline button.
- – Availability: If you think you should attend, the next thing to do is to check your availability. If you are available, you can accept. Otherwise here are some options if you are double booked.
- — Propose a different time explaining if it’s just a preference or a “conditio sine qua non” i.e. changing date/time/venue is required in order for you to attend. If that’s the case, you can also propose different times looking at the scheduler of other core invitees.
- — If you have difficulties in finding reasonable alternatives, ask yourself, what’s the priority among these meetings? What’s the consequence of moving/cancelling/rescheduling/ghosting one of the two meetings?
- — If all variables indicate the two meetings are absolutely equal in importance, first come first served policy is an acceptable standard but it is not the only one.
- — You don’t want to spend hours or too many minutes on deciding your rescheduling/rejection policy every time. Have your own heuristic, principles or style ready and established.
Educate the people around you on what to expect.
- — Automate these types of decisions.
- – Interchangeability: generally speaking, in a successful and mature organisation no one should hold so much information or power to be a bottleneck or impediment that stops others from making a decision.
Don’t attend just out of the FOMO (fear of missing out) or because you think the meeting will have the wrong output if you are not there.
Also many “wrong” decisions can be evaluated only after-fact, meaning that a particular path needed to be explored to discover that a different option could be better. In any case deciding now is better than postponing it or keeping an entire organisation hostage. There are many other cases when you also can/should just recuse yourself and reject the invitation: generally whenever your attendance is not ethically appropriate (e.g. conflict of interest).
- – Preparation: if you are committed to attend the meeting read/skim the needed info, documents, context, attachment. Is there any action you can take offline before the meeting to facilitate the success of the meeting? If so, do it. Anything to amend or correct? Anything to add in a productive and concise way? Do it.
A successful meeting starts with good preparation. Preparing (for) the meeting is everyone’s responsibility, not the organiser’s only. Everyone plays their part.
There is a checklist for the organiser that helps to streamline and standardise an efficient way to organise the meeting. Once the invitation is received, the audience can go through their checklist to quickly assess if they should attend, if they can participate and what actions can be triggered in semi-automated ways to save time and energy.
Some of these practices can sound extreme, too formal in some cultures or environments, especially where the discipline of being efficient is not valued enough. That’s where these practices are needed the most!
In time everyone will naturally adopt the new way of working and improvements can be brought in.
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I write about organizational patterns, transformational leadership, healthy businesses, high-performing teams, future of workplace, culture, mindset, biases and more. My focus is in leading, training, and coaching teams and organizations in improving their agile adoption. Articles are the result of my ideas, studies, reading, research, courses, and learning. The postings on this site and any social profile are my own and do not represent or relate to the postings, strategies, opinions, events, situations of any current or former employer.
This article has been published for the first time on danieledavi.com by the author Daniele Davi’.
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