Comics and critics lampoon meetings for their soul-sucking ineffectiveness. Back in 1957, Satirist and British Naval Historian Northcote Parkinson described a typical committee meeting starting with 4 to 5 members, quickly growing to 9 to 10, then ballooning to 20 members plus. The irony is that as meetings balloon in size less gets done and the work is usually accomplished by 4 or 5 members before and after the meeting.
As Fierce has doubled down its efforts at building resilience and defeating stress, we’ve learned something interesting about meetings. Meetings can be a major stressor that diminishes the capacity for work and can even lead to burnout. One specific client discovered a particular meeting was creating high levels of stress. After analyzing the reasons, it was not intense confrontation or fear of presenting, it was apathy and boredom driving the stress.
Meetings are essential to get tasks done and move forward with the goals of any organization. They provide time for communication, planning, and innovation, but done poorly they can sabotage your efforts at growth.
When meetings are a waste of time, job satisfaction declines.
And when job satisfaction declines, happiness in general falls.
But it’s not your fault! Numerous surveys of managers and business schools continually show that less than 25% of managers receive any training on conducting meetings. It’s an assumed skill, but a lack of guidance could be destroying our productivity.
So how do you become more effective at meetings as both a leader and a participant? Let’s look at some practical tips and then communication strategies that make meetings more effective.
Tips For An Effective Meeting
Many of these tips are simple but can be used as a checklist to determine the effectiveness of meetings prior to putting them on the calendar.
Determine If Necessary. So many meetings are just “rocks” on the calendar. We do them because we’ve always done them. However, there may be no purpose for the meeting. Evaluate the necessity of a meeting and don’t feel bad for trimming them off the calendar.
Invite only the people that need to be there. Who has the perspectives necessary to make good decisions and those willing to take action on the task at hand? Limit meeting attendance to only those essential to decision-making. This doesn’t mean you only include the c-suite and managerial class in meetings. In fact, including individual contributors allows for leadership development and creates a diversity of perspectives.
Research into effective meeting size continually points to groups of 5-8 people.
Harvard researcher J. Richard Hackman concluded that four to six members are the best size for most tasks and no work team should have more than 10 members. When you go beyond 10 people, meetings develop performance problems, and interpersonal friction increases “exponentially as team size increases.”
Consider the Ringelmann effect (named after the French engineer Maximilien Ringelmann), as the size of a group increases, the average individual effort falls.
Set A Clear Agenda & Framework. The person in charge of a meeting should create an agenda with purpose prior to the meeting. Feedback from participants as to the agenda topics can be considered as well. To make the meeting run much for effective time limits and schedules should be set in stone.
Our familiar satirist, Parkinson, is also credited with Parkinson’s Law which states that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.”
Make meetings more efficient by having a clear agenda and getting right to the point, and making a commitment to finishing within a reasonable time frame.
Pre-Meeting Action Items. Along with establishing an agenda, clarify any action items or preparation participants will need to take prior to the meeting. Especially for brainstorming, it helps if people can generate ideas prior to the meetings when they are in a private judgment-free zone without influence from the group.
Take Notes For Publication. Establish one person in the group to be the note-taker. Make sure to summarize key topics and action items. For action items, have those assigned before concluding along with timelines and any follow-ups.
Communication Strategies to Upgrade Your Meetings
Through the development and execution of the Fierce Team program, we’ve learned many essential components that create effective meetings that provide forward progress to any organization
These communication strategies will help improve the content and outcome of your meetings.
Expect Active Participation. Make sure all participants understand that by virtue of the invite they are to actively participate. Setting this expectation prior to the meeting will bring a different level of enthusiasm and engagement. Otherwise, participants assume this is another perfunctory attendance-only meeting.
Create Psychological Safety & Trust. In order to gain the maximum value for all participants during meetings, you must create an environment of trust where there is psychological safety to speak your mind. Building trust is essential, especially for participants that lean toward introversion. Make clear that they are participating because they are valued, and will be expected to contribute.
Create Space for Divergent Thinking. Learn to solicit multiple and even competing perspectives especially when facing a big decision or opportunity. Having competing perspectives brings clarity to the action needed and also to how decisions will be executed. Even when consensus about a decision is reached, divergent perspectives will help to clarify and sharpen the final outcome of the meeting. In fact, if everyone assents to every agenda item, the meeting was pointless and a simple email poll would have been sufficient.
Build Collaboration and Alignment. One of the major stated outcomes of every meeting must be collaboration and alignment. Both only happen through effective conversations. Before the meeting ends make sure everyone understands and is aligned on the same decision. Remember, alignment doesn’t have to mean agreement.
Fierce has built multiple frameworks and tools for developing deep effective conversations.
Practice Effective Conversation Skills – A good place to start improving your own conversation is through the 4 C’s: clarity, candor, commitment, and completion. Make sure you understand and are understood. Be honest and allow others to show honesty. Express your commitment to one another and the outcomes of the meeting. Understand the exact actions needed at the conclusion of a conversation.
Meetings don’t have to be filled with dread but should be an effective part of work life. Great meetings will enhance and deepen the relationship with your time creating more collaboration and innovation over time.