Meetings are an important part of communication in most businesses but it is a poorly understood discipline. For many people, a meetings is that it is something that is boring, takes a lot of time and has little value.
I suspect many people would say that meetings are dead or unnecessary, especially in a small business. Maybe it’s because many of us have been too exposed to traditional type of meetings which usually drag on for hours and seem to have little or no purpose.
I still believe that meetings are vital to improving communication and feedback throughout the business. However, we need to change the structure, timing and composition to suit our needs and help us become more productive, and the business more profitable. But we need a new paradigm for the humble meeting.
What do we need to do in order to create a new “meeting” paradigm?
The first thing we need to change is the name – MEETINGS. The mere mention of this name conjures all the wrong images in our minds. My suggestion is that you call your “new meetings” something else like: discussions, catch ups, toolbox talks, huddles, etc – anything but “meetings”. This will change the mindset right from the start.If you have any good alternative names then please post on the blog at the end of this post.
Get the structure right
Second issue to address is the structure. By this I mean 3 key elements:
AGENDA: Take the time to understand the purpose of the “meeting”. Why are we bothering? What are our expectations? Once you understand this, you can then create a simple agenda to meet these needs. Keep it tight and focused. Document only agreed actions arising from the meeting. The meetings should be about making decisions.
A simple Agenda could cover topics like: What’s going well? What’s not? How are we tracking on key KPI’s? What do we need to change? What is news? Previous actions. Agreed actions from this meeting.
DURATION: My advice, the shorter the better! Set tight timeframes for discussions on topics. Give everyone a chance to contribute within agreed timeframes. Don’t allow “time fillers” to waffle on. Establish rules around what and when a topic gets taken off-line from this meeting. (My general rule is anything that doesn’t involve 3 or more participants/departments should be taken off-line). You are better off to have more short, sharp, focused meetings with the right people on board than fewer, longer, less productive meetings.
ATTENDEES: This is a tricky one as you run the risk of bruising egos. However, if your business is to grow and develop you will need to address these issues at some point. Attendees need to be people who will add value and/or will be directly responsible for actions generated in the meeting. There should be no-one with “Observer” status. If you are part of the meeting you are expected to contribute.
FREQUENCY and TIMING
With today’s fast-paced lifestyle and dynamic businesses, most business owners say they haven’t got the time to meet formally, but will consider chatting over a cup of coffee periodically and hope that that will be good enough. They also use other forms of communication such as email and SMS in lieu of a quality meeting (not that these aren’t good tools for the right situation).
The problem is, although these people think they are saving time and money by having a fleeting meeting now and then, in reality they are wasting more than if they sat down with a proper agenda, and conducted a well-thought through meeting.
The basic rule for frequency is that – the bigger the challenge ahead of you and the quicker you need to deliver on that challenge then the more frequently your team needs to communicate. Meetings are certainly an important part of that communication process as they allow for fast fine-tuning of direction and activities to keep everyone on track to meet your business goals.
Set the frequency of your meetings to fit with the rate of change and the challenges being confronted.
Remember we are talking about short, sharp focused meetings not the rambling gatherings of old! You are better to meet more frequently for short periods than longer and less frequent.
Change your paradigms
Meetings of old are no longer relevant. Business and communication tools have changed but quality meetings are always an important part of business growth.
It’s time to upgrade to well-structured and short timeframe meetings (20 minutes or less) – short and sharp with clear outcomes and action plans. This way you get far better results, far better time efficiency and far better participation rates.
Make the change – you’ll be pleased you did!
Russell Cummings is a career consultant having spent the last 25 years working as a Strategy and Business Development Facilitator to a wide cross-section of businesses and industries. For more information on Russell, visit www.sbdbusiness.com.au