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The art of conducting meetings

If it is 7 PM and you think you have spent your day in meetings without accomplishing much, there is a high chance you need to recalibrate. Too many meetings in a day take up too much time whereas too little may mean you are missing out on important decisions during the day. Meetings, if not done right, will become a manager’s bane.

Over the years, working with managers which are great and terrible at meetings, I have devised a framework on conducting meetings which prompt action and drive decisions. This is my first effort to pen this down, so here goes.

Define the agenda of the meeting:

Everyone has received a meeting invite without an agenda. A person sending a meeting invite without a defined agenda is as blank as the people who are going to attend it. Writing down the agenda in the calendar invite has the following benefits:

  • It allows the sender to rethink – do we really need this meeting? If so, why exactly?
  • It enables the sender to plan the meeting with pointers to cover, automatically directing the focus of the conversation
  • It gives a clear picture to the attendees on what to expect from the meeting and how they can come prepared to it

Whenever you send out a meeting invite, outline a brief agenda you would want to cover – it will smoothen the meeting execution tenfold.

Define the outcome of the meeting:

The agenda of the meeting should always contain the field “desired outcome”. Defining the “desired outcome” will focus everyone’s energies on solving the problem at hand. Once the intent is there, results will naturally follow. Naming this section as “desired outcome” is done to add a touch of pragmatism – there will be times when the outcome you desired will not be the outcome of the meeting and that is completely okay.

Identify the attendees:

No one wants to be in a meeting where they feel uninvited. Attendees should always be chosen to attend carefully. We can divide all attendees into the following roles:

  • Anchors: You should always have an anchor to run the meeting. It is often the organizer but can be anyone else as well. The best organizers are those who let people know who is going to anchor the meeting at least a couple of hours before the meeting. Not having an anchor is like not having Google Maps – you will get there but will make wrong turns, wasting people’s time in the process.

  • Decision-makers: They are key to the outcome of the meeting. Cancel if the decision maker has declined the meeting or reschedule if s/he is a no show. In every meeting there should be at least one decision-maker. In case there are more than one decision makers, the anchor should focus on building consensus if there is a difference of opinion.

  • Contributors: It is good to have them. They should help understand the implications of decisions by presenting different viewpoints. If a contributor is essential to the decision due to some knowledge s/he has, reschedule if they decline or are a no show.

  • Observers: It is beneficial for everyone to leave the observers out. If they just need to listen, just include them in the outcome email.

Put a timer:

Digital calendars today have made it mandatory to time bound meetings but if that doesn’t work for you, please don’t buy a premium Zoom account. Allow it to kick you out exactly after 40 mins. Managing time is the responsibility of the anchors of the meeting. Anchors should focus on the following points during the meeting:

  • Anchors should spend a maximum of 2-3 mins to set the theme of the meeting by going over the agenda and the desired outcomes

  • Anchors should ensure each agenda item gets its fair share of time from the meeting.

  • If the anchor feels someone is unwilling to lose the spotlight, s/he should make a move to let the person know they are taking too much time

  • Anchors should keep an eye on the agenda items left to discuss and the remaining time in the me eting. If the anchor feels that the meeting is going off track due to 3) or any other reason, s/he should make a conscious effort to bring the meeting back on track

There will be times when the best of anchorage will still not come to a desired outcome from the meeting. In such cases, it would be best to reschedule a meeting with all the above points in consideration.

Publish the outcomes:

Publishing the outcomes of a meeting in any form carries immense value. Let’s list a few down:

  • People who just need to be informed of the outcome of the meeting can just go through the text in a few mins instead of spending an hour in the meeting. Yes, observers, that is you!

  • Outcomes clearly define the action items or next steps from a meeting. These should always be assigned and have a deadline and follow up date letting everyone know what’s expected of them and when.

  • Define the need for a follow up meeting. In this case do not forget to follow all the above.

Hope this helps.

This post is licensed under CC BY 4.0 by the author.