Bringing people together, in-person, is a powerful thing. There are subtleties in communication and collaboration that just cannot be replicated though email or conference calls, and yes, even video conferencing (oh, you fancy). However, even as we gather live-bodies into a room around a shared purpose, there are common missteps that give us all that feeling of “why am I here?”. If you are missing these 3 things, you might be squandering the output of your collaborators, and frankly, wasting everyone’s time.
Please, don’t waste our time.
#1 Provide an Agenda
…and give us some time with it, would ya?
I once attended the awards party for Library Journal‘s Library of the Year. In her acceptance toast, Topeka & Shawnee County Public Library (KS) CEO Gina Millsap disclosed some of the policies that primed her company culture for success. One of which is a bold, yet effective one—no one is required to attend any meeting that does not have an agenda. This would be a hard sell with most companies, but she stands by it and it has paid dividends to the output of the library’s staff.
Millsap’s policy is inspiring. An agenda provides meaning and structure to any meeting. Her team is consistently well informed of what they are meant to bring to the table as well as take away from it. The over-arching theme here is that documentation is key.
- Begin by disclosing what the purpose of the meeting is. A short paragraph describing why you called the meeting and what you are trying to get out of it gets everyone on the same page and aligned around the same objective.
- Follow with a short list of action-items that will be required to make your meeting a success. As the meeting progresses record your solutions to each action-item or assign the documentation of these notes to a non-strategic member of your team.
- Make sure to build in enough time into each item on your list. A quick run through prior to your meeting will help you get a better sense of what is realistic within whatever time constraint you are under. Hint: If you have 20 items on you list and the conference room booked for an hour, that means you expect to get through each item in 3 minutes or less… which, is probably not realistic. But, I appreciate your enthusiasm. Just remember to be realistic in your time-management.
Also, do your best to control ramblings that may occur to remain on time. Which, leads me to my next tip…
#2 Stay on Task
Inevitably members of your team will become sidetracked by discussions that are outside the metaphorical walls of your agenda. If you can’t go over your allotted time, it’s critical to control these departures swiftly. I recommend sharing an agreed-upon “get back on task” word that can be used when conversations drift away from your action-item. Making your word a bit silly can help to ease any sour attitudes that might surface when you play bad cop. For example:
Next on our list, what dates are we looking at for the following event?
What about prices!? Our last event was priced at…
Aardvark!… We will decide the ticket prices later, This meeting is to confirm dates.
Boom.. back on task.
Now while the “get back on task word” tactic is fun for more a more laid back setting like regular planning with your immediate team, I do not recommend it for an executive-level or strategic conversation with more complex outcomes.
In those instances, rather than accuse an individual of getting off-topic, it is better to address the issue directly and get their uninterrupted position on the issue. If they have stake in the outcomes of your decisions, they must be heard, period. If it will eat too deep into the particular agenda you have constructed, politely agree that it is an important point that can be addressed separately and assign it as a takeaway to follow up with. Cue, the 3rd tip…
#3 Distribute the Takeaways
Meetings are only as good as their outcomes. It is critical in retaining your progress on any project, to document the outcomes of your meetings and distribute them accordingly. Any new tasks or assignments that surface must be assigned with clear deadlines and delivery specifications. Any promises that have been made should be documented and individuals held accountable. Any unanswered questions will require a follow up.
Distribute a simple planning document that outlines all of these details and distribute it to your meeting participants, if possible on the same day (while it is fresh). Save that same document for your records and use it to structure whatever progress report or follow up meetings you will hold in the future.
…now go on and crush your next meeting.