Updated: Apr 22, 2020
Had Enough Meetings?
Are online meetings too often dull, boring, inconclusive? Are participants fully engaged or just waiting for this meeting to end and the next one to begin? Do people secretly wish this or that meeting would be cancelled so they could get something done? Is technology helping or hurting our efforts to organize ourselves and conduct productive meetings?
The authors of 2017 Harvard Business Review article surveyed 182 senior managers in a range of industries:
65% said meetings keep them from completing their own work.
71% said meetings are unproductive and inefficient.
64% said meetings come at the expense of deep thinking.
62% said meetings miss opportunities to bring the team closer together.
And these are senior managers, just think how much worse would be the ratings of middle and front-line managers and employees.
With so many people now working from home or offsite, we’ve got to change processes, behaviors and expectations in order to be as productive as we need to be. If it were simple and easy, everyone would have already mastered online meeting skills.
The key ingredient:
While it is reasonably simple, and we will give you a checklist to use, successful meetings take one element that people don’t always get in a meeting – and that’s leadership. One person needs to own the meeting process and truly lead participants through the straightforward processes of the online meeting.
You know the WHY. Here’s the HOW.
Somebody has an idea to get a group of people together to do WHAT? There must be a clearly defined purpose for every meeting. Very specifically, what is the need for people to interrupt their day to participate in this meeting? What is expected to occur because they invest their time and effort in participating?
You’ve probably heard the saying, “what gets measured gets managed.” The equally true corollary is “what doesn’t get measured doesn’t get managed.” People just resent and complain about it. That fits the majority of meetings. The simplest way to assess meeting effectiveness (and to learn what needs to be changed in the meeting process) is to devise measurements of meeting effectiveness.
To keep this blog short, we’re not going to explain every aspect of the meeting checklist: most of it is easy to intuitively understand.
Here are the keys to virtual meeting effectiveness.
Key participants agree that a meeting is necessary and worth investing time and effort to hold – desired outcomes are specified.
Key participants identify agenda items and what completion of each item would look like. Agenda timing is agreed upon. A meeting time is set and communicated. Be sure you schedule enough time to accomplish all agenda items. Consider scheduling meetings for other than one hour (e.g.: 45 minutes, 75 minutes, 50 minutes). Schedule the meeting room to open 10 minutes before the start of the meeting to ensure everyone is ready to go on time
Key participants agree on who will lead this meeting – the meeting leader is not necessarily the meeting organizer or even a critical participant. It is often better for difficult discussions to have a leader who does not have a big stake in the meeting outcome. The leader’s purpose is to move participants through each step of the meeting process, introduce agenda items, introduce each process to follow in decision making and to hold people accountable for following process. Key participants, particularly those with lots of organizational power agree not to take the meeting away from the leader in mid-meeting. The meeting owner(s) contact the proposed leader, discuss expectations, purpose, and get buy-in.
Meeting participants and their roles are clearly identified
Preparation requirements are identified and communicated along with the agenda. Be sure to include specific information on how to access and use meeting technology
Identify a person to be the meeting notetaker. This is best done before the meeting, not when the meeting is beginning. It is often helpful if the notetaker can share the slideshow periodically to reveal what notes have been captured. This person can also administer any polling or surveying done of participants. It is absolutely critical that any decisions and timetables agreed upon are reflected in the notes. Items put into a “parking lot” should also be identified before the meeting ends. At the conclusion of the meeting, the leader and notetaker should collaborate to recap the progress of completing agenda items and decisions that were taken or need to be taken.
For complex meetings, identify a timekeeper. The leader will clarify the time allocated to agenda items and the timekeeper will let the group know when the time has expired for an individual item and also how much time remains to discuss the other items and what those expected times were planned to be. This is much more important than it sounds. This keeps meetings flowing and on time to complete their objectives.
For small groups of participants, ask everyone to participate on their webcams. This keeps people much more engaged. The leader should check in with each person periodically to be sure they are engaged.
Start – and stop – on time
Create and share meeting ground rules at the beginning of the meeting: arrive early and prepared, identify yourself when speaking, use the mute button when not speaking, participate actively, encourage others’ participation, stay focused on the meeting (no solitaire!), attack the problem, not the person.
If using slides, make sure they are easy to view and understand
Create and use a parking lot to “park” issues that come up that are not on the agenda
Practice using meeting technology in advance of your meeting
To increase engagement, plan your meeting to incorporate technology features such as polling, chat, whiteboards, annotations, breakout groups, video
Call on participants by name to increase engagement
Plan for interaction: Have a list of questions you are prepared to ask during the meeting.
Encourage discussion that harnesses the group’s diversity of thought. Ask for diverging opinions.
If one person is dominating the discussion, interrupt and redirect by asking questions of others.
As you finish significant agenda items, ask a participant to summarize for the group
When using a web camera, look into the camera when you are speaking
Summarize the meeting by identifying specific decisions, actions, next steps. Be sure to include who will do what by when.
Conduct a PLUS / DELTA to identify best practices to continue and what needs to change to make your next virtual meeting even better.
Thank participants for their active engagement and contributions
Practice the 24 hour rule: Send out meeting notes within 24 hours of the meeting
Okay, so it isn’t all that simple! You can clearly see why a leader is so valuable for virtual meetings.
What are your virtual meeting productivity tips? Care to share? Leave a note and help everyone in the Bottom Line Technologies community benefit from your productivity tips.
More resources for virtual success: