Best practices for thoughtful planning, execution, and action
Recently, we’ve been thinking a lot about meetings here at High Alpha. Every company has meetings — team meetings, stand-ups, strategy meetings, review meetings… the list goes on and on, and those are just internal meetings. In the U.S. alone, there are 25 million meetings a day. Executives are often spending over 50% of their time in meetings every day.
Meetings Matter — But we’re doing them wrong
92% of employees value meetings as an opportunity to contribute to their organization. Despite the overwhelming desire by almost all employees to have valuable meetings, most feel that over 1/2 of the meetings they attend are unproductive and find the flow and cadence to be inefficient, repetitive, and with no clear takeaways.
Meetings are also costing us money. In fact, the U.S. spends $37 billion dollars a year on unnecessary meetings. You can calculate how much your meetings are costing you using Harvard Business Review’s meeting cost calculator.
The idea behind hosting a meeting is usually a good one, however, meetings are HARD. It takes about as long to prep for a meeting as the meeting duration. When done correctly this would cause people to have fewer meetings, but instead we run from meeting to meeting, not maximizing their value at all. Backed by research and practice, there are proven tactics and methodology behind running an efficient and effective meeting.
Do I Even Need a Meeting?
Before you get started with the meeting process, it’s important to ask yourself:
Do I even need a meeting?
Deeply consider the purpose of the meeting you are hoping to execute. With the pervasive feeling of “meeting fatigue” in our work culture today, if you can prevent a meeting from occurring in the first place that will only be a positive. This adds time back into participants calendars, enhancing the quality of other meetings that require your attention too. Ask yourself:
Once the objective of the meeting is established, you can proceed with the three parts of a meeting. At a basic level, it may seem as though the effort of a meeting lies within the meeting itself. However, the work pre- and post-meeting is just as important, if not more important, for effective and efficient outcomes.
Before you can execute a meeting, you need to ensure all of the pre-meeting prep is taken care of.
- Invite all the right people — Make sure that every person that will be present for the meeting adds unique value and voice to the conversation. Consider if some of the stakeholders are more interested in the outcomes of the meeting than the process. If this is the case, those specific folks don’t need an invitation and can be looped in on meeting outcomes instead.
- Consider the conversation and prepare appropriately — Depending on the purpose of the meeting, ensure that all the work needed to frame the topic and inform the discussion or decision making is complete. Think through what research, pre-reading, or context every attendee needs in order to get the most out of the allotted time. Include pre-reads or specific asks in a pre-meeting communication. Consider:
What logic points are required to reach a decision?
What data will support that?
Does that data need to be provided in advance to digest?
What arguments / push-back will I receive?
How will I handle that? Can I refute it with data (make an appendix slide)?
3. Assemble and distribute an agenda — Make sure you know exactly what you want to cover in your meeting. Break these topics down into specific topics and subtopics. It can also be helpful to cite which pre-read resources pertain to said topic or who the topic owner is if that is relevant to your meeting. The agenda is one of the most overlooked parts of a meeting, however 73% of employees think the agenda is a critical part of a meeting, helps drive action/accountability, and makes teams feel satisfied.
PRO TIP: Think through the timing of your meeting. Consider how long you would like to spend on each topic of the agenda. Budget your time so that all agenda items are scheduled leaving 5–10 minutes of unscheduled time to allow the meeting to either end early or for agenda items to have wiggle room. If your office space has strict meeting room schedules, book your meeting room 15 minutes early on the front-end and 30 minutes extra on the back-end to ensure you will have a dedicated environment for the work that needs to be accomplished.
While the meeting is occurring, it’s important to stay on track and ensure that your presence and participation is meaningful.
- Arrive early — There is nothing worse than losing precious discussion or decision making time waiting for a needed participant. Every meeting attendee, but especially the meeting organizer, should arrive five minutes early to turn on your presentation, open the phone line, ensure your tech works, etc. It will feel much better to leave early than to go over time and feel rushed at the end, and you want to make sure all attendees know that you value and respect the time they have set aside to meet.
- Own your meeting — Start your meeting with a clear objective statement to align participants. Clearly express how and when you would like feedback. You organized a meeting for a reason. It is your responsibility to direct the meeting toward the desired objective and keep the conversation or presentation on time. Keep firm on “hard stops” and stick to your agenda. Don’t get pushed around and direct participants questions to be held until later if needed.
- Capture key moments — Never leave a meeting asking “Now what?”. As the meeting progresses, ensure that each individual or a clearly designated participant is capturing general notes, decisions made, action steps, and action step owners so post-meeting work is clear.
PRO TIP: Choose your seat strategically. Consider if there is a screen you need to view, where everyone in the room will be able to see you, or if there is a whiteboard or additional resource you need to reach.
After the meeting, it’s critical to follow through so that the meeting objective is realized. It’s important to have a solid post-meeting ritual as a meeting owner as well as encouraging the same for meeting participants.
- Reflect on the meeting — think through the content and participation. Were you able to accomplish all items on your agenda? What was the energy in the room? Were participants engaged? Understanding the broader picture of your meeting will help you identify pain points and opportunities to improve in the future.
- Debrief the minutes — Clean them up for distribution, pull decisions & action items out to the top, determine your next steps now that decisions have been made.
- Drive action steps — Add all assigned action steps to your to-do list and make sure to follow up with folks you have assigned action items to. Additionally, it’s important to conclude the meeting process with a follow-up reviewing action steps with assigned deadlines and sharing notes and decisions made with all stakeholders (especially ones that were not present).
Meetings will continue to be an integral part of the work day. As meeting owners, taking time to step-back, reframe, and adjust your approach to how you run and process meetings will only have positive effects on the efficiency, effectiveness, and sentiment of meetings in your workplace.
Thank you to Ryan Larcom who co-authored this piece. His insight was especially critical in breaking down the three parts of a meeting.
If you have a strong interest in meetings, here are some of my favorite books on the topic: