Great teamwork is more essential now than ever. Today’s teams face increasingly complicated challenges, and their success is contingent on efficiently and effectively working together. In other words, the core fundamentals of group collaboration and proper “enabling conditions” can still give teams a competitive advantage.
In the workplace, meetings are the “container” where teams congregate to exchange information, solve problems, and move initiatives forward. However, without clear rules and structure, employees are inundated with meetings, which often include too many people with unclear goals, leading to wasted time and minimal results. With so much time spent in meetings, employee engagement quickly recedes as multitasking and other distractions produce poor meeting outcomes. Additional meetings are then scheduled to try to achieve the original goal. Ongoing chaos and madness emerge!
We need a better way forward.
So, what can leaders do within their organization to make a meaningful difference in how people plan and conduct meetings to achieve results that matter? The following best practices can help you eradicate the meeting madness.
#1 Define the Meeting Culture
Leaders must define the meeting culture that is best for their organizations and teams. They must model “the way we do things around here.” Are people expected to send clear agendas in advance? Do meetings have clear outcomes? Do they start and end on time? Does the culture allow for diverse perspectives? Are they engaging for all attendees? Do people have permission to decline meeting invitations if they aren’t explicitly required?
The leader’s job is to set the tone, model the way, and hold others accountable. Meetings are a microcosm of the organization. Structureless, disorganized, chaotic, and exclusive (versus inclusive) meetings often mirror the company culture. As a leader, it is up to you to change the dynamic. It must begin with you.
#2 Clarify Who and How People Should Be Involved
Meetings can be excellent avenues to solicit diverse perspectives, debate ideas, and foster teamwork. But they can also result in too much involvement whereby everyone is invited to all conversations. Our “2020 State of Online Meetings Report” affirms that scheduling unstructured meetings is the default way to advance work for many, especially if they weren’t receiving responses via e-mail.
Meeting overload is often a symptom of poor stakeholder analysis and planning. Deciding who to involve in meetings and how they should be involved is an important exercise. Instead of defaulting to meetings with the entire team, ask yourself:
- What sort of information needs to be shared?
- What are the key decisions that need to be made?
- Who is responsible for either making those key decisions or providing valuable perspectives or data?
- What level of buy-in is appropriate?
Then, visualize the process by which people will be involved within the meeting. Will you ask people to list ideas in Chat, unmute and share their perspective verbally, or e-mail their thoughts to key questions in advance? If there isn’t a clear way to generate active involvement with the larger group, a smaller group of stakeholders is often more appropriate. Meeting notes and key decisions can always be circulated to the larger group post-meeting.
#3 Teach and Empower Employees to Precisely Define Their ‘Desired Outcomes’
Unlike their technical expertise, very few employees experience formal training around meeting management skills. Modeling how to set up, conduct, and follow through on meetings is often learned via osmosis—and often, bad habits become ingrained. Meeting preparation defaults to a list of agenda topics without putting much thought into the intended outcomes. For example, statements like “discuss the budget” or “update project initiative status” often serve as stand-ins for real agenda items.
This produces loose meetings in which the intended outcome is unclear. For meetings to be effective, they must employ a level of process structure and precision that drives results. In the “2020 State of Online Meetings Report,” intended meeting goals were achieved 95% of the time when “Desired Outcome” statements were sent in advance and dropped sharply when not provided. Desired Outcome statements address the question “By the end of this meeting, we will have … ?” Crafting a Desired Outcome statement is a simple but powerful tool for achieving results. As a leader, if you could empower employees to implement only one tool, it would be this:
By the end of this meeting, we will have …
Discussed the budgetA shared understanding of our 2021 operating budget so we can provide input on marketing expenses Updated project initiative statusAn awareness of our current project initiative status so that we can hold ourselves accountable, identify anything that is behind schedule, agree on an action plan, and mitigate risk
View the “2020 State of Online Meetings Report” here.
As working professionals around the world increasingly work on remote and hybrid teams, achieving focus, engagement, and tangible results is within reach. In today’s challenging environment, it has never been more important to make sure your employees have the mind-set and skill set to feel supported and encouraged to produce meaningful results.
Chris Williams serves as the Director of Business Operations for Interaction Associates. His background includes more than 10 years in the professional services space in business operations, recruiting, business development, and complex research roles. Prior work includes strategy consulting for Fortune 500 clients. Interaction Associates is best known for introducing the concept and practice of group facilitation to the business world in the early 1970s. For over 50 years, the company has provided thousands of leaders and teams with practical, simple, and effective programs, tools, and techniques for leading, meeting, and working better across functions, viewpoints, and geographies.