By Brian Kreissl
One area a lot of managers and organizations don’t handle well is meeting management. Meetings frequently waste a tremendous amount of time, even if they’re seen as being a necessary evil and are required for the purposes of decision making and getting things done.
Yet by adhering to a few best practices, organizations can make meetings much more efficient and effective. I believe there’s a role for HR in all of this — even though meetings are essentially everyone’s business.
Unproductive and disrespectful practices
A few unproductive and sometimes disrespectful practices I've noticed over the years in various organizations relating to meetings include the following:
•double or triple booking senior-level people for meetings practically all the time
•having recurring meetings even when there's nothing to discuss
•scheduling meetings with no clear agenda or objective
•delaying meetings and wasting time because of technology issues (such as online demos, videoconferencing, projectors, microphones, projectors)
•failing to distribute important preparatory materials in advance — particularly when participants don’t have time to read background information during the meeting
•starting and finishing meetings late
•key stakeholders missing important meetings
•failing to invite important stakeholders to meetings
•inviting participants to meetings that don’t concern them
•constantly checking PDAs, e-mailing and texting
•having excessively long meetings or meetings that are too short to accomplish the stated objectives.
•having a meeting when a simple e-mail would suffice, or conversely, handling complex or sensitive issues via e-mail which should have been communicated through meetings or other media such as telephone conversations.
•scheduling meetings at inappropriate times (such as first thing in the morning, after hours or on religious holidays)
•failing to establish ground rules (such as one person speaks at a time, questions at the end)
•having to conduct the same meeting twice (or more) because a key decision maker was absent the first time around or because no notes were taken and no one can recall what was decided upon
•failing to establish next steps, action items or accountabilities
•failing to schedule important followup meetings
•failing to prepare meeting minutes or notes afterwards.
The role of human resources
Some would argue meeting management isn’t within the mandate of human resources. After all, effective meeting management is everyone's business and HR can’t be there to police or help facilitate every meeting within the organization.
Nevertheless, because employee communications and organizational effectiveness frequently fall under the ambit of HR, it is clear HR can help by putting the appropriate framework into place by communicating policies, guidelines and best practices and through training and change management. And if HR is seen to be modelling best practices and appropriate behaviours relating to meetings, other functions and departments will start to catch on.
Some of the things organizations can do to improve the effectiveness of meetings include:
•Developing and communicating organizational guidelines and policies on meeting management which include specifics around timing of meetings, who should be at them, appropriate and inappropriate conduct and the use of technology, meeting rooms and equipment.
•Ensuring everyone is respectful and that people are allowed an opportunity to speak.
•Determining in advance who must be present at a certain meeting and making attendance optional for some participants where appropriate.
•Empowering front-line managers and supervisors to make decisions during meetings.
•Inviting people who actually perform the work to meetings concerning processes, workflows or technologies.
•Delegating attendance at specific meetings to certain individuals and having them represent the department or function, as opposed to having the entire team participate.
•Setting a clear agenda for each meeting and sticking to it.
•Ensuring meetings are scheduled at convenient times that take participants’ needs, commitments, schedules and time zones into consideration (such as not having meetings after hours, on weekends or first thing in the morning).
•Providing at least 24 hours’ advance notice of new, rescheduled or cancelled meetings wherever possible.
•Booking meeting rooms in advance to allow time for set-up where technology will be required.
•Appointing facilitators and note-takers for each meeting.
•Ensuring minutes are documented and distributed to invitees and other relevant stakeholders, and establishing action items, accountabilities and next steps.
•Sticking to the allotted time and ensuring meetings start and finish on time.
•Having quick “team huddles” or “standing meetings” where information can be communicated quickly without the need of a full meeting.
Brian Kreissl is the managing editor of Consult Carswell. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information, visit www.consultcarswell.com.