How to save one day a week

meeting-sWe spend a huge portion of our working lives in meetings. What’s more, the more senior you become, the more of your time you spend in them.

Now I’ve no doubt that most of us run a “reasonably good” meeting, but few of us have ever invested quality time in learning how to run “great” meetings. Which is a shame, because it’s something we spend most of our working lives doing.

So be honest, how effective are your meetings? Here’s a quick test.

For each of these statements, score your meetings: 5 for “always”, 4 for “usually”, 3 for “half the time”, 2 for “occasionally” and 1 for “rarely if ever”.

  • People turn up on time, having read what they need to read, and done what they need to do.
  • Every part of the agenda has an objective to either reach a decision or agree a set of actions.
  • No presentations: the content has already been shared and you go straight to the discussion.
  • Discussions are always inclusive, never bilateral; everyone is heard, the conversation stays on topic, decisions are reached and clear actions are taken.
  • Everyone leaves feeling: they’ve contributed, their questions have been answered, good decisions have been made and actions committed to, and it was worth the time it took.

Like I said, be honest.

Now add up your scores for the five statements and multiply your total by four to get a percentage. That’s a pretty good indication of how effective your meetings are, and how much more effective they could be. If your overall score is less than 75%, it’s no exaggeration to say you could probably save up to a day a week.

So, how can you quickly and dramatically improve the effectiveness of your meetings?

The first three statements, worth 60% of the score, are all about preparation. If you’ve scored low here, the fix is simple. You need to set clear expectations for the team, model the behaviour you expect to see, without fail, and praise those who step up first. It might sound strange to publicly praise colleagues for simply arriving on time, with notes scribbled on their pre-reads, but it’s critical for shifting behaviours if that’s an area you’re missing on right now.

Alongside that, it’s important you don’t trivialise or make humour with those who don’t step up. There’s no need to be publicly critical: start the meeting when it’s supposed to start and move through the agenda – just don’t indulge those who show up late and unprepared, or who bring a last-minute paper that nobody has read and expect it to be discussed.

The last two statements are harder to master because they depend on you, in the room; on your ability to chair in a way that’s open, collaborative and flexible as to how the conversation unfolds; on your ability to stick resolutely to the scope for the discussion and to keep coming back to the decisions that need to be made. If this is a low-scoring area, certain “stock-questions” can make a huge difference.

“What do other people think?” “Did that answer your question?” “Have you got the decision you needed?” “How does that relate to the decision we need to make?” “Are we clear on the actions?” “Is there anything else we should consider before we move on?”

What starts as a conscious effort quickly becomes a habit, and soon becomes a model that others will follow.

And finally, and probably most important of all, if you want people to feel good about the meeting they just had, recognise their contribution. When I first started chairing meetings, I kept a little space on my page to note down my “appreciations” for the end of every meeting. It makes a big difference – not just to how they feel when they’re leaving, but to how they will feel when they’re preparing for the next one.

When it comes to behaviour change, it doesn’t matter how senior the people are: a little bit of unqualified appreciation goes a very long way.

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