Even in the age of instant, web-based communication it’s sometimes necessary to pull the troops together in the same room.
Business meetings. Love them or hate them, they’re a permanent part of corporate culture. You can tolerate them, embrace them, or spend most of your energy trying to get out of them, but sooner or later you’ll find yourself in one…and probably running one.
Maybe you’ve already noticed, but it seems like business meetings tend to take on the personalities of the people running them. Regimented, focused, tense, laid back, or just plain frantic, the meeting’s leader sets the tone. The late Mark McCormick, the ultra busy founder of IMG, would schedule 90-second meetings during trips in the company elevator. That’s efficient. President Lyndon Johnson was rumored to move cabinet meetings to the White House men’s room, when especially pressed for time. That’s informal. And probably not very hygienic.
But no matter what your leadership style, and whether you consider office meetings a vital part of your work day or just a necessary evil, there are steps you can take to ensure that everyone’s time is put to good use.
The Worst Reason to Hold a Company Meeting
Only call a company meeting when absolutely necessary. Your people are busy. They should be working on improving processes, shoring-up customer relations and taking steps to improve your company’s value.
There are many reasons to schedule a meeting – some are good, some are bad, most are acceptable. The worst reason to hold a company meeting? To share information. Meetings that are overwhelmingly focused on “updates” or where the information flows in just one direction are unnecessary. In these cases, your company’s time and energy are being squandered internally rather than focused on outside opportunities.
Think about it. A good company meeting addresses problems, encourages innovation and provides a clear sense of direction for the attendees to follow after the meeting. If the goal of a meeting is to simply provide updates, then resort to email or other less disruptive and time-consuming methods of communication instead.
There are exceptions. You might want to get everyone together to share especially good news, like a new contract, or major personnel decisions, like a key hire in a high profile position. But most information can be shared electronically, and recipients can follow up individually on matters that aren’t clear to them.
Better Business Meetings
So if you decide that a meeting is necessary, take the following “how to run a meeting” steps to increase your chances for a successful event.
- Determine what you want to accomplish. Be as specific as possible. Are you soliciting opinions regarding a possible new service or product launch? Are you assembling a budget for the coming year? Is a critical project in need of mid-course adjustments? Whatever your objective, make sure it’s absolutely clear to you, so you can communicate to your team what exactly you want to do.
- Cut the guest list. It’s tempting to include too many employees. Invite only people who have something to contribute and can benefit from being there. Think about your company meeting room as a small raft, not a luxury yacht. Focus on bringing in team members working directly on the subject in question and on experts who have specialized knowledge that can help make the meeting more productive.
- Have a clear business meeting agenda. This is obvious advice that is commonly ignored. If possible, get a written business meeting agenda to participants at least a day before. This will help keep your group focused and also allow everyone time to prepare. And to maximize productivity, don’t overwhelm your team with too much in one meeting. Two or three significant topics are enough for one sitting.
- Less is more. Keep business meetings as short as possible and insist on starting and stopping on time. Tip: Consider odd start times (8:35 am) and unusual time increments (25 minutes) to emphasize that you’re serious about staying on schedule.
- Delegate. To move the company meeting along and allow you to run the discussion, assign roles at the start of each meeting. At minimum, you’ll need someone to keep time and give you a two-minute warning when it’s time to start wrapping up, and a note-taker to record points made during presentations and discussions. This person can also write down ideas, suggestions, and broader points on the room’s white board, if it has one. If you’re using visual aids – a slide presentation, for example – make sure someone is nearby who understands the technology being used.
- Follow up. Briefly summarize the meeting’s most critical points and pending action steps in writing, and send them to attendees as soon as you can. Meet individually with key group members if they need additional support or direction from you prior to the next gathering.
Another Approach to Business Meetings
It’s always okay to adjust the basic principles of good meetings to a format that best suits your company. Management consultant Verne Harnish, author of Mastering the Rockefeller Habits: What You Must Do to Increase the Value of Your Growing Firm (Gazelles, Inc., 2006), makes the case for very short (five minutes, tops) daily meetings.
These types of business meetings are held at a neutral site (a hallway), take place while everyone is standing (very important – it keeps it short) and are primarily concerned with tracking the progress of a particular assignment or project and identifying the logjams or bottlenecks that should be addressed to stay on schedule. Side discussions are not allowed. In fact, participants that want to address issues not specifically related to the day’s bottlenecks are encouraged to take those conversations “off line.”
This format can be very effective for companies that have project teams dedicated to certain tasks and faced with particular milestones and deadlines.
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