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Meetings are not bad. We make it bad / Part 2
Some more obvious and non-obvious ideas to make your next meetings better
In the first part of this post series, I shared that the most important tip for avoid bad meetings 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.
In this second part, I will like to share more tips with all of you that I have been experimenting in the last few years with varying levels of success. Some of these tips will be non-obvious or perhaps non traditional and contrary to common thinking that prevails in our workplaces. I also don’t suggest you apply blind faith in all these tips, but rather pick up these tips as experiments to see if something sticks for you and help your meetings get better.
Recurring meetings require the most upfront work, and hence plan it with caution
Large meetings (>3 people) that are recurring requires are expensive i.e these meetings require the most preparation in the form of creating a recurring agenda that is well suited for the meeting participants, note taking, moderation and follow up. A recurring meeting should be an expensive meeting by design, and therefore everybody involved in the meeting - organizer and participants, should be aware of this expense. Choosing to cancel a particular iteration of this recurring meeting if the preparation is not enough is usually wise thing to do. It also signals how the group make decisions about expenses in terms of time invest. A caveat that runs with this tip is to also consider keeping this recurring meeting for a particular iteration if the meeting participants are comfortable to repurpose the time and agenda for an important and urgent topic. I call these exceptions where there is a deliberate alignment to use this meeting for something else, but be aware of making this as a habit.
Rotating meeting creates empathy and skin in the game for all
Often you will hear proponents of no meeting culture stand strong and aim to abolish all meetings. I am on the side of creating meetings when necessary by keeping the ideas shared here and in the last article that I shared with you. Mindful meeting culture is likely better than a strict no meeting culture, but obviously there are organizations who take it to each extreme on both sides with sub-optimal outcomes (no meetings vs meetings all the time). One thing that stood out for me as an idea to build more empathy around meeting culture is the need to rotate the responsibility of running meetings in a group. When you let everybody take their chance to organize and run meetings, they get better at knowing what works and what does not, and it increases the chances that they engage better when the group decides to have a meeting and when they do not. Having just one person driving a particular meeting all the time, especially a recurring one, prevents people to really see the need for meetings when they are actually useful but also feel the pain of running a large meeting. Enabling your teams to have this experience is crucial while keeping in mind that not everyone is tuned to running meetings effectively - and like any other skill it requires practice.
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Normalise cancelling meetings when they are not needed
Often it is hard for people to propose cancelling meetings when they feel the meeting is not going to be effective, and if the meeting participants include people with power and in position. This leads to a meeting culture where ineffective discussions in meeting become norm with no course of change. Leaders should be able to create environment where asking to cancel meetings is not penalised but rather promoted. One of the ways leaders can enable such a culture is by asking the question : “are we all sure we are ready for this meeting ?” to all participants. Usually it is possible to ask such a question on a messaging platform used by the organization before the meeting or even at the start of the meeting itself. If done effectively, it will catch up in the organization for others to do the same.
Handling back-to-back meetings by closing early and avoid spillovers
This is becoming quite common now to have back to back meetings to have buffer time between them - this often manifests in the form of meetings that do not end for the full 30 min or 1 hour duration, but instead 25 and 55 min or even less. This allows the meeting participants to have time between meetings whether remote or in-person. If you are in a meeting that is designed for multiple hours, ask for deliberate breaks between hours. According to research, one can focus no longer than 90 min at a stretch, so it is effective for you to consider including mandatory 10-15 min breaks in your long meetings.
Like in the first part, the above ideas will help you and your teams to make the best use of their time. As you use these ideas, you will get a better understanding of how to own these ideas and come up with new ones. As with anything, a lot depends on your individual context and situation Keep incorporating mechanisms to collect constant feedback with your teams about your meeting rituals and incorporate ideas to improve the meetings continuously.