In the first part of this series titled “Successful Meetings in High Performing Organisations – Part 1: Before the meeting“, I have covered how to prepare for successful meeting.
In this article, I will talk about how to ensure the success of a meeting.
The distinction between the meeting organiser and meeting invitee mentioned in Part 1 does not necessarily apply during the meeting.
The organiser or who materially sent out the invitation, perhaps on behalf of someone else, may in fact not be present in the meeting at all.
As we will see, during the meeting different roles may be needed and taken by any participant. These roles may change depending on whether a process meeting or a purpose meeting is taking place.
Key aspects for the success of the meeting (no matter what type of meeting) are punctuality, time-boxing, rhythm, time management and perception, and active listening. There are also techniques, methods and frameworks that can be used to achieve meeting goals.
Let’s start with some roles.
According to the crowd and needs, the organiser or facilitator (but also anyone else) can take the lead to request other specific roles if needed.
Even in a meeting with two people, it is good to agree from the beginning upon who will collect notes and send them out. This does not forbid other participants to take notes and make them available to a wider audience. It is just to be clear and sure that at least one person will do it.
Time keeper will ensure that points in the agenda are discussed timely so that the meeting goal can be reached before the end of the meeting time. Time keeper will ensure not only the overall time-boxing but also the duration of each agenda point and each contribution. If one or few people are monopolising the conversation, the time keeper stops them to ensure others can have space, time and comfort to contribute. The time keeper is not afraid to interrupt (passive) aggressive, abusive, rapacious, chatty, garrulous, compulsive participants.
Generic facilitator will ensure the agenda is not diverted, that the interactions are healthy and productive. They guide, lead, and facilitate the thinking process. They put a structure around the positive enthusiastic energies to channel them towards a tangible result. They explain the format, the agenda, the goal. They recall everyone to the order, or remind them to stay calm, polite, positive. They encourage people to speak, they ensure the meeting proceeds smoothly, and recap conclusions.
When the usage of particular formats or techniques are required, the facilitator explains the ground rules, drives decision making methods, applies constructive confrontation techniques, and leads brainstorming.
Any other role is welcome and there can be many according to the situation: presenter, advisor, stakeholder, agile coach… Roles should rotate in order to avoid that the organisation would depend on a few specific people to run successful meetings. Everyone should feel comfortable in taking a different role in different meetings and recognise when there is need for extra support.
Except for the cases when a specific type of facilitator is required, anyone among the audience can and should take a role.
Start on time, keep the rhythm, finish on time.
People are often late to meetings because their previous meeting has gone too long. The first step to cut the vicious circle is to leave every meeting on time. The meeting may not be finished, the goal may not have been achieved, still you’d better leave on time.
The early bird
Arrive at least on time – but it is better if you join the meeting a couple of minutes before; breathe, reset your thoughts, achieve the calmness needed to contribute at best to the commencing meeting. Read again the agenda, the goal or for instance the important part of an attached document. If you have prepared some questions or there are notes from a previous session, it is the time to review them, just before the meeting starts.Wait for the others to join up to a couple of minutes after the scheduled time.
Adapt and replan your schedule
If you are 5 minutes or more late, let the audience know you will not attend. Do not interrupt a meeting that has already started. Break the chain of being late by skipping the meeting. Skipping the meeting rather than arriving late is an awesome opportunity given to you, to be on time to the subsequent meeting. If you want to change and start having successful meetings, do not find excuses to deviate from this rule.
The late show
If someone doesn’t realise what time it is and tries to join a meeting already started, anyone (or the facilitator) can just ask the person politely to leave the meeting. Offer to catch up later, do not make it seem like a big deal, it is not a sanction, it is only a technical step to become efficient. The late attendee will receive the meeting notes and everyone will be available to discuss and explain the achieved output showing inclusiveness in many different ways.
The late late show
Late attendees usually interrupt with apologies or excuses, explaining the reason why they are late, why they are busier than others, why someone else or something else should be blamed. They tend to over explain and often repeat themselves. They do not realise that assuming to be more busy than others is impolite and quite often not true. Even more often, in the attempt to be more likeable despite their attitude and poor time management, they try to tell jokes, anecdotes, stories, consuming everyone else’s time, patience, and energy.
The late late late show
You may object, “wouldn’t it be better to let that unpunctual person attend at least just as an observer rather than exclude them?”
It is a nice thought but definitely naive. Once in, that person may interrupt, often asking questions that have been already answered, or touching points already discussed and cleared.Too many times, they bring back or slow down the agenda. Repeating the pattern, late-joiners will distract the ones who made an effort to properly manage their time and were able to join and start what was supposed to be a successful meeting.
Inverting the trend
Inhibit wrong habits, reward correct ones. Let me reiterate the reason why late joiners should not be admitted (not in rooms nor in virtual meetings): you want to break the vicious cycle and help that person to change their behaviour. To make the change happen you need to change something. You want to reinforce the importance of being on time and you want to reward the ones who were on time. It’s not a punishment. It’s not a forever ban. It’s not a stigma. As explained, the same person late in a meeting, that is not admitted, is given the opportunity to join on time the next meeting, take a breath, a much needed pause. A rewarding experience that you want that becomes a habit for everyone, if you want to improve your organisation performance. Once this is a well established practice, people will understand all the benefits of it.
Process and purpose meetings are very different. A demo and a brainstorming will develop in very different ways. Some meetings will require a brief intro to set the ground rules and expectations. In other meetings we want to set the tone or summarise previous progress. After agreeing on roles, it is important to agree on decision-making methods (especially if never used before), brainstorming techniques, design thinking tools, techniques to navigate conflicts or any other planned activity.
I will not deep dive into any of these specific techniques but I will provide some key approaches to open the doors of efficiency and enter a new world. A world where the most common meeting anti-patterns do not exist.
Unless needed for the meeting, leave laptops, phones and distractions out of the room. Don’t try to multitask, you will just end up being distracted.Be present. Be here, now. Once the meeting starts, it is easy for some passionate people to talk or talk too much. As long as no one interrupts them they would fill the whole meeting time. The reason why people do not interrupt is because generally speaking interrupting is not polite or acceptable. On the other hand, sometimes people try to give input only if there is silence for a while or in between someone else’s breath.It doesn’t have to be like this but that’s a common pattern you need to watch out for in order to be efficient and successful.
Two ears, one mouth
There is a reason why we have two ears and one mouth. Attendees should listen at least twice the time that they speak. Who can assure everyone will have a chance to speak and to listen? Facilitators and time keepers can help, but it is everyone’s responsibility to listen to themselves.
So, if you are participating in a meeting here are a few rules of thumb:
– If you are a presenter or you have a given time to talk about a topic in an agenda, stay within your time boundaries and leave some time for Q&A.
– Unless you are a presenter, if you are talking for more than 3 minutes, pause. Stop talking, look around, give a chance to others, pass on the baton, invite them with eyes or do so vocally.
– Ask before proceeding with your train of thoughts, if anyone has any questions, thoughts, ideas, inputs.
– Be comfortable with the silence. Call the people one by one if needed.
– It can be frustrating at the beginning if no one replies; silence can be awkward, but that’s because the new habit is not yet established and not everyone feels comfortable and safe in contributing, yet.
Strong Opinions, Weakly Held
Another key factor for successful meetings is that every participant should be ready to change their mind. Having clear ideas for solutions is paramount. Opinions are welcome too. Divergent views enrich the dialogue. Just do not fall in the trap of infinite debates or arguments. The real game changer in high performing organisations’ meetings is the capacity to be open to new, unconventional, even uncomfortable views. If you enter a meeting to impose your view to others, to listen only to yourself, to win a battle, to fight a crusade, to show your stubbornness, then you will contribute to the meeting failure, a waste of time, money, energies. Each participant should keep an open and growth mindset. There is nothing to show off. There is a lot to learn. All options are on the table, even the ones that we don’t like or that frustrate us.
We need to ask ourselves what can happen if the meeting ends by deciding to take an approach that seems “wrong”? What’s the worst that can happen? What if we, as a team or organisation, would explore that option? What if we let it go? It is very important to express views and doubts, provide inputs, suggestions, and reasons. That’s the responsibility of each participant. Imposing a result, it is not.
Before the end, the goal needs to be achieved. You can wrap up with a last round of table or voting or using any other method to take a decision or an action. Too often the action is to wait, postpone, reschedule. Resist this temptation. There is more value in failing fast and learning, in exploring a path -successful or not – than in wasting time due delays.
To close the meeting on time or five minutes before, you should be able to wrap up, summarise agreed decisions, read the notes and confirm when they will be sent out.Agreed decisions and actions should have an assignee or a coordinator and a due date. Better if they are expressed in the form of SMART actions.
According to the type, goal, audience of your meeting, you can decide which roles you need. At the beginning of the meeting decide and assign the needed roles.
Rotate them after each meeting as much as you can, so that everyone acquires more skills.
Arrive prepared, arrive before. Leave the chit-chat at the coffee machine corner. Stay focused. If you are too late, do not enter. Inform others and take a break. Break the vicious circle of running late all day. Catch up after when the notes are sent. Expect the same from everyone.
Have strong opinions, weakly held. Be a contributor, be an active listener, develop and check your internal clock.
Pause, let others speak, give space, change your mind, try something new.
Try to achieve the goal ahead of time and recap the agreed actions including assignees and due dates.
Congratulations! You just learned how to conduct and be a part of successful meetings.
* * *
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’.
© Daniele Davi’, 2021. No part of this article or the materials available through this website may be copied, photocopied, reproduced, translated, distributed, transmitted, displayed, published, broadcast or reduced to any electronic medium, human or machine-readable form, in whole or in part, without prior written consent of the author, Daniele Davi’.