In the first article of this series, we looked at the power of purpose in speaking – essentially communication. The fundamental reason for meetings is to facilitate communication. Often, meetings are viewed as an inconvenience. This could be because the person calling the meeting hasn’t properly thought about the purpose of the meeting. Or hasn’t communicated that purpose to the participants. Or both.
Understanding and communicating the specific purpose of bringing people together should have a big impact on the conduct of the meeting. Are you having a meeting to discuss information, to build a team, to make decisions? Once you know, all aspects of the meeting can flow from this purpose:
- Who needs to be there
- What should (and should not be) on the agenda
- What needs to be prepared in advance
The most frequent complaint I hear about meetings is that it is “random updates”. Just a series of people giving updates about what they’ve been doing. Often participants talking for the sake of it and/or justifying their own position.
In my opinion, there is no point in having a meeting just to read out updates. These can be sent to all those in the meeting to read at their convenience. I’m not saying updates are not necessary, but the purpose of a meeting must be to do something with those updates:
- Input is required from other people working on the project / in the team.
- Challenges need to be discussed to find a solution.
- There are lessons to be learnt which are applicable to the wider project/team.
- Decisions need to be made as a result.
Sometimes it absolutely is easier to convey information verbally rather than in writing. Think about why this is needed and the ask of those listening to the update. This should help you craft the most effective way of presenting.
When the purpose of the meeting is “to have a meeting”
The purpose of a meeting should never be to have a meeting.
It is often important to bring a group of people together who work together. In doing so, having a more specific purpose will help make the meeting more effective. The topics for discussion and potential activities could be vast. The more specific you can be about what you want to get out of a meeting, the better you can design that meeting.
I’ve attended various meetings where people working together on the same account across different geographies came together. The attendees have different areas of responsibility. Some talk to each other more often than others, either individually or on projects across the team. Sometimes various team members simply present what they’ve been doing. Perhaps interesting for the duration of the presentation (depending on how good the presenter is). Unlikely however to be memorable or useful beyond that time.
Instead consider the following more specific purposes:
- To build relationships in the team. You could spend more time on networking or specific team building activities.
- To facilitate better working relationships. Why not get the participants to discuss how they could work better together. Simply knowing what each other is doing is probably not going to help this.
- To discuss the business plan for the organisation/department/account. It is generally far more powerful to have all meeting participants actively engaged in discussing and contributing to this rather than a top down presentation from those most senior in the room.
Keeping on Track
Another bugbear about meetings that can be avoided with careful consideration of the purpose is timing. Time is precious. Your meeting attendees have busy diaries. Meetings are important for many reasons and often facilitate achieving things quicker than without them. Yet if someone spends all their time in meetings, they are probably not able to do all the other things on their to do list.
Meetings should be as long as needed to achieve their purpose, but no longer. It is easy to get side-tracked in a meeting when related, but not entirely relevant, issues arise. If something is being discussed that is not contributing the purpose of the meeting, it really should be parked. If it’s important, it may need further discussion and perhaps a separate meeting. Again with specific purpose, agenda items and only necessary attendees. If you want to have better meetings, think about why you are having them.
You could use a modified version of the question from the previous article to help: “What do you want the meeting participants to know or feel or do as a result of the meeting?”. Once you are clear on the reason for the meeting, craft the agenda to suit the purpose and keep in mind the intended outcome throughout the meeting. You are far more likely to have meaningful meetings that your participants enjoy and actively contribute to, resulting in better outcomes.