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Should This Be An Email? How To Plan More Effective Meetings

By Andrew Rains

Date Published: Jul 21, 2021

Are meetings good or bad? It’s the ultimate debate. The answer is...it depends.

The meetings debate is even more prominent today with the growing prevalence of remote work and the subsequent uptick in Zoom fatigue cementing the phrase “this should’ve been an email” into the lexicon of many.

I believe meetings can be great, but they can also be really bad or a complete waste of time. Getting together with key members of your team is critical for generating honest discussion, increasing overall production and making important decisions with the people who are directly impacted by them. But it's possible that not all the meetings you schedule are necessary, and those unnecessary meetings could be ineffective and detrimental to your team’s productivity.

Should This Be An Email? How To Plan More Effective Meetings

Determining Whether A Meeting Is Necessary

To plan more effective meetings, start by asking whether a meeting needs to take place.

In my opinion, most organizations can reduce the number of meetings they hold by at least 20%. Imagine giving that much time back to your organization and the productivity that could result from eliminating 20% of your team’s meetings.

So, when does it make sense to have a meeting?

First, identify what you’re looking to get out of the meeting. As you’re planning, ask questions about what your specific goals or objectives for the meeting are, what success post-meeting looks like and who the most important people you need to reach those goals are.

A key component of successful meetings is active participation. If you decide you need to hold a meeting, it’s important that everyone invited has a clear role and expectations. Ensuring you have the right people in the room means no one is sitting around doing other work or looking at their phones. Active participants will be focused on the meeting agenda.

When you're mapping out who should attend a meeting, don’t rely only on your org chart. Think about who will add the most value — regardless of where they sit within the organization.

I believe very few meetings should have more than six to eight people. One way to think about this is by considering whether you can feed everyone in the meeting with two pizzas. If you can’t feed everyone with two pizzas, there are probably too many people there.

Running An Effective Meeting

Regardless of your specific topic or goals, your ability to run an effective meeting comes down to three things:

1. First and foremost, the attitude of the meeting’s organizer will set the tone for the meeting. If the person leading the group is not enthused, energetic or well-prepared, the participants will likely follow suit.

2. Keep your meeting agenda focused. Meetings that attempt to cover too many topics are often doomed to fail. Stay focused on covering the areas or topics that need to be discussed in order to accomplish your goals.

3. Finally, it’s important to create a meeting environment that fosters healthy discussions and debate. Meetings aren’t necessarily about everyone getting along — they’re about taking on hard topics and making progress. Even with a little bit of conflict, the discussion can still be productive and respectful.

I love this analogy from Patrick Lencioni’s Death by Meeting: Much like a movie, you have to grab your participants’ attention quickly. Most meetings don’t do that. Movies rarely skip the drama or conflict, so if you aren’t discussing critical issues and then working to resolve any conflicts that arise during a meeting, it may not be effective.

I also strongly recommend doing a meeting recap to determine if it was a good use of time and if you accomplished what you set out to at the beginning of the meeting.

The Meetings You Should Have

Even though I’m a proponent of companies reducing meetings by at least 20%, there are still some that are critical and essential. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to meetings that will work for every organization, but here are some types of meetings to consider holding:

1. Quick daily stand-ups that cover topics like how to win the day and what kind of new challenges are on the horizon can give your team a greater understanding of their place in the big picture. This type of meeting works well if you’re in crisis mode. We held daily stand-ups during the first two months of the pandemic, and these meetings were a very effective use of time because our plans were literally changing by the day.

2. You can also use weekly accountability meetings that cover more involved topics to identify larger trends and discuss commitments for the upcoming week.

3. You should also set aside specific times to cover topics like strategic initiatives and more in-depth, future-focused planning. All too often, I’ve seen leaders try to cover daily, weekly and big-picture topics in one overflowing meeting. My recommendation is to break these meetings into specific, separate times to ensure each meeting is productive, focused and effective.

Ditching meetings altogether might be a dream for some, but when done right, meetings can be helpful for collaboration, creativity and healthy debate that drives decision-making. In summary, determine if you need to have a meeting, establish what success looks like, think through who should attend, stay focused during the meeting and recap or reflect at the end to determine if you met your criteria for success.

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