The Internet is full of “10 Rules For Effective Meetings” blog posts so why not create my own? Sure, why not?
These are the guidelines I try to follow when organizing meetings. They work fine for me in the context of the company I work for (flat structure, ~80 people, no managers, no corpo-bullshit). I have no idea what happens if you apply them to your workplace (but I bet, it would be something positive).
A Meeting? Seriously?
Sometimes it is enough to visit your colleague in the next room, sometimes all you need is a short discussion on group chat with few people, sometimes simply wait till certain people are having coffee break and join them for a five minutes discussion.
Meeting is a heavy, time-consuming, corpo-smelling, commonly disliked thing – look for a lighter solution.
Save People’s Time
As an organizer make sure you do everything possible to save people’s time. This means you make sure that:
- all important people will show up,
- the room is ready (see below),
- all participants know what they should prepare for the meeting (if anything), and that they really did,
- lead the meeting so that it is worth being there
One minute of your preparations can result in few minutes saved for each participant. Do the math.
Organize the Room
Always be there at least 5 minutes before the meeting. This gives you time to reorganize tables and chairs, tweak the air conditioning, bring missing markers, clean the whiteboard, check the projector works etc. Make sure the flip chart, markers, magnets, pencils, cards, or whatever else you gonna use is there.
They way the tables and chairs are organized is important. Make sure you know what type of meeting you want (a lecture? an open discussion?) and put the chairs so that people have no choice but sit according to your plan. If it doesn’t work just like that, ask people to rearrange so they sit the way you intended. Really, do it. If not, you will end up with weak discussion only because people sit side by side and can’t really talk to each other. Or you will have two hostile tribes on two other sides of the table. And it will be your fault.
A meeting without Action Points (AP) is a waste of time. Make sure everyone knows what was decided (remind them right before the end of the meeting). Every AP should have an owner. For every AP it should be clear what the next step is, and when this next step should be finished.
Keep them short – usually the APs is all that matters. Add pictures of whiteboards notes, sketches, diagrams etc. – a good reminder of what happened during the meeting.
Send the notes ASAP (to all interested parties) after the meeting is finished.
Make Fun of It
If possible make some fun around the meeting. Yes, do it. The invitation can be funny or you can put some funny accents into the meeting notes. I’m trying to do it for (some) meetings I run at Codewise and I think it works. From discussions with my colleagues I suspect some of them take look at the notes because they want to find out what kind of stupid stuff I put there among serious notes. Good! – at least they will scan through the notes looking for hidden gems and will inhale some of the essence (if they want it or not).
I will give you one example of what I’m talking about. This is an email invitation to developers to take part in our weekly “devs meeting” – which is a gathering of interested individuals from each development team to share business and technology news. So usually the invitation email is “standard”, but from time to time, I try to tweak it a little bit. For example, like this:
For problem-solving meetings always start with the facts. Even if you think people know the full picture. They usually don’t. It is your task to learn about it before the meeting, and then present it in a concise way. Or – even better – ask the participants to list them. If not, you risk all kind of misunderstandings (like people discussing different issues, while thinking they all talk about the same).
OK, here comes a story. So once upon a time we had this meeting. And I explicitly asked participants beforehand to prepare a list of facts so we start discussion with them. Once the meeting started one person gave like one fact and immediately followed with a general solution, which, in his opinion, solved all problems related to the discussed topic! I stopped him in the middle of a sentence and refused to discuss the solution until we learn about the whole picture. We continued with the facts and listed 12 of them on a whiteboard. After 30 minutes of a discussion we agreed on some action points. The solutions we discovered were completely different from what the first guy suggested. I would also say they were much better. Can you guess why?
Do Not Distract People
Do not turn on the projector too early, and make sure you switch it off when it is not needed anymore. For some reason, people will stare at the screen even if nothing happens there (instead taking part in the discussion).
Switch off all communicators/calendar reminders when presenting. First, it distracts people. Second, it can be pretty embarrassing. 🙂
For problem-solving meetings always leave the door open. Invite crucial people and let other know that such and such meeting will be held. And don’t worry – only few (if any!) will come. But those who decide to join you will probably have something interesting to say. Good for you, right?
Similarly, publish the notes so that all employees can read them. You have nothing to hide, do you?
- Come prepared. If asked to read something, read it. If asked to think about some idea beforehand, think about the idea. Simple, isn’t it?
- Don’t attend a meeting if you do not feel like going there. Your absent-presence won’t help anyone.
- Think about other people who could help and discuss inviting them with the meeting host.
- Always inform the organizers if you attend or not. A simple click in the calendar is all they need – and it really helps them to prepare a meeting.
Tips & Tricks
- If we chit-chat instead of discussing it means the meeting is over. Finish it.
- For recurring meetings, change the meeting host once in a while. It helps to fight the boredom.
- Throw away empty markers immediately. Have no mercy!
For all programmers out there, who love all kind of meetings 🙂