I know we all wish there was a magic bean that would guarantee successful meetings. Maybe one day they’ll get around to inventing one (we did solve that pesky watermelon problem). Until that day though, we’ll have to make do with grit, determination and solid foundation. Having worked with all different kinds of people and organizations over the years, we’ve found that there are three key elements that support a meeting and give it the best chance to succeed.
When these three pillars are established and maintained throughout the process, meetings become more efficient and effective.
Clarify the Purpose:
Before there's an agenda and even before you've invited anyone to attend you need to focus on establishing the meeting's core objectives. What those objectives might need to be can range from updating people on progress or making key decisions. And sometimes your meetings may have more than one objective. Regardless, the more clearly you understand the purpose of the meeting, the core problem or issue being addressed, and the needed outcomes from the process, the more focused and productive the meeting will be.
People’s time is valuable and is a limited resource. Clarity of purpose helps everyone to understand just how important this meeting is and why – as precious as the time you’ve asked from them is – their participation is truly invaluable.
Every meeting planning process should begin with this focus.
Manage the Relationships:
It’s all about relationships. Unless you’re gathering a group a total strangers (and sometimes even then) people’s presuppositions and preexisting relational dynamics are always at play in meetings. People are often apt to slip into predefined “roles” they’ve conformed to time and time again.
As the leader of a meeting you need to help bring out the best in each individual to see them pull together as a team. Even if just for the duration of the meeting, it is essential to navigate these relationships and guide people in real time to break down walls and barriers that might inhibit accomplishing the objective.
This is so, so much easier said than done and we'll probably cover the issue more fully in a future post, but there are a few things here we want to note about how to do this. First, you have to listen well. Even if you're "in charge" of the meeting, in order to lead it well your ears should be more open than your mouth is. Second, put yourself in the participants' shoes and try to think of how this meeting affects them from their perspective. And third, try to make sure everyone is clearly understanding the information. People learn in different ways and you often need to restate things from multiple angles in order to being clarity of comprehension to those in attendance.
Distill the Information:
Nothing is more frustrating than spending hours and hours working to fulfill a meetings purpose only to find that the effort has produced a disorganized ad hoc collection of things. Some of it might be useful, much of it might not be. But distilling the detail and organizing it in a manner that enables action often doesn’t happen.
Distillation is the process of separation and organization. It is not about judgment and editing, it’s about striving for purity and clarity regarding the outcome of the meeting and how it can help fulfill the meeting’s purpose.
Your job isn’t finished when the meeting ends. It’s only finished when you get your hands on a clear, organized material that can help you move forward to accomplish your goals.
There you have it. These three pillars provide a stable foundation that your agenda, presentation, Q&A, and every other meeting element rest upon. Even the most well prepared and professionally executed meeting can fall flat on its face without these.
Have you thought about this before? Do you already approach your meetings with this mindset? Do you think this is all bunch of hooey? Let us know what your experiences are!