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Meetings are not bad. We make it bad / Part 1
Some obvious and non-obvious ideas to make your next meetings better
Meetings are an important part of how we all work and we all want to make sure they are effective. An effective meeting is usually one that has a clear outcome, having the right participants who were able to contribute to the discussion, and a set of next steps. In the spirit of making this year better than the last year with regards to our meeting culture, we would like to share some ideas that you can apply to make your next meeting effective.
This document provides tips for making meetings more effective. The most important tip is to always set an agenda for a meeting. Other tips include preparing a pre-read for complex topics, starting and finishing meetings on time, incorporating micro breaks for long meetings, making at least one day a week meeting-free, making the meeting intent clear, limiting participation to those who can contribute, recording meetings and sharing notes, and creating meeting blockers for large meetings. It is also important to collect feedback and continuously improve meeting practices. (FYI - this was a machine generated summary)
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If you can do one thing from here to make your meetings effective is this : Always set an agenda for a meeting. Meetings without an agenda creates anxiety and prevents the participants from preparing in advance for the meeting. Doing this one thing only can already start making your meetings effective. So start with that.
Here are some more ways you can make your meetings better :
For meeting agenda that needs context or includes complex topics, prepare a pre-read
If you anticipate that a meeting requires participants to have a shared context or background about the discussion points, it is usually effective to have a pre-read. Don’t worry about making the pre-read pretty, rather focus on calling out the key points that you want to cover and bring in any connected information in one place (Looker dashboard links, metric snapshots, slack messages etc). The pre-read will also help to allow participants to share their inputs in advance and let participants who could not join in during the call to weigh in. It is advisable for a pre-read to be available especially when you have many points to discuss or have a large group participating in the meeting.
Start and finish in time, include micro breaks in a long meeting
It is needless to say that starting and finishing a meeting in time is always effective. However, for whatever reason if you cannot start the meeting at time, atleast make sure you close the meeting in time. A meeting ending late has a cascading impact on other meetings in the day for you and other participants. For a longer meeting, always include micro breaks (~5 mins) to allow people to move and refresh.
Make atleast one day a week meeting free day for you and your team
As much as possible, try to incorporate a meeting free day in your and team’s schedule. This is atleast important for large group meetings - avoid them on the designated meeting free day. This comes with a caveat in case there is an emergency and the only day possible to have a large group meeting is the meeting free day. But treat this as an exception, than a norm. If you want to organize a 1-1 call with someone on a meeting free day, then align with them in advance.
Make your meeting intent clear
Meetings have different intentions : decision making, brainstorming, information sharing, joint problem-solving etc. Making this intent clear in the meeting invite provides the participants an advance notice on the expectations, and they will likely prepare or atleast orient their participation accordingly. For an information sharing meeting, if some of the people cannot make it to the meeting, at least they can reach out to the meeting organizer or refer to the meeting notes. Same for a decision making meeting, if someone cannot join that meeting but wants to make sure their opinion is considered and discussed, then they can find alternate methods to voice their inputs before the meeting.
You don’t need everyone in a meeting. Limit participation and enable engagement
Only involve people who you think can contribute to or be benefited by joining the meeting. If a meeting requires participation from different teams, find out ways where the meeting can be attended by a team representative who can share their team’s input to discuss the agenda and follow up on the action items with their team after the meeting. Not everyone is comfortable sharing their inputs openly in a group setting, so find ways to get inputs from everyone. For example, you can go one by one to get inputs from all participants, or you can ask everyone to add their inputs to a document or post-its on a Miro board and then begin discussion.
Record meetings and share notes with everyone
If there is no memory of the meeting without recording or notes or action items, it may feel that the meeting was a waste for the participants. Make sure you have someone in the meeting who can take the role of a meeting note taker and they can share the meeting notes with action items to everyone after the meeting. If possible record the meeting (with consent from all participants) and share the recording with all participants.
Large meeting rituals include preparation and advance booking of time
Large meetings with many participants are expensive. Create meeting blockers for the participants in advance and let them know that a full agenda and preparation document is going to be shared shortly. This will make sure you book time with people as soon as possible by letting them know a high level agenda at the least, and follow up in the week(s) or day(s) with a full preparation of the agenda and topics to be discussed. To make sure you are running these meetings effectively, invest in advance preparation by creating pre-reads.
The above ideas will help you and your teams to make the best use of their time. Further, incorporate mechanisms to collect constant feedback with your teams about your meeting rituals and incorporate ideas to improve the meetings continuously. If you find a method or framework to make your meetings better, do not hesitate to share it widely.
Here is the Part 2 of this series. Enjoy !