Author: Felix Güßfeld, Assistant Consultant

31st of January 2020

The formula is simple: 9 to 5, enough time to get the job done with rolled up sleeves and some planning in advance. Those who plan efficiently even have time for their own initiatives or simply a longer break. If it weren’t for the meetings!

Various numbers can be found in statistics. Depending on the organisation, 30% to 50% of the available time is spent on meetings. One thing is certain: The tendency is steeply upward. And who doesn’t know it from their own everyday work: Work is piling up, deadlines are creeping around the table And all you do is sitting in a meeting. Inner restlessness, nervousness and tension are spreading, you want to get out and finally work productively. But the next meeting is already scheduled. Of course, with an open end!

That’s why we say: 2020 without unproductive meetings! Here comes our SOICON meeting guide. You will be surprised how simple methods can make your meetings more efficient and, above all, more effective.

Before you get started

1. Name it. Your meeting should always have a clearly identifiable reason. Loose information exchange, for example, is better kept in the coffee kitchen than in the meeting room, or in a structured form as daily stand-ups, e-mails, chats or internal newsletters. Be honest with yourself: Is a meeting really necessary or is an e-mail or a short phone call enough to achieve the essential? Tip: Whenever team decisions are required or a result is to be worked out together, meetings are more advantageous than online voting or long chains of e-mails.

2. Less is more. Meetings are expensive because they block capacity. Try the Meeting Cost Calculator from Harvard Business Review to see this simple fact for yourself or show it to your colleagues. So ask yourself who should really attend the meeting. Who really helps you achieving your meeting goal?

3. Never without an agenda. Structures provide orientation. You already know the reason for your meeting, now consider the steps you need to take to reach your goal. Assign minutes to each item. By doing so, you commit yourself and the team to deliver results and it helps to estimate how much time really needs to be spent on the meeting. Share the agenda before the meeting and let the invitees know if they need to prepare anything. This gives your colleagues a chance to plan their time realistically. They will be grateful.

4. Time is relative. Think about when you want the meeting to take place. The likelihood that many participants will be late is comparatively high for early morning appointments: heavy traffic, children to be taken to school, etc. The duration of a meeting should also be clearly limited. Meetings, that are too long, strain the participants’ ability to concentrate and are not productive.

All participants know the start and end times, have been informed about the reason and know what to expect from the agenda. The course for a successful meeting is set, keep it up!

It’s getting serious

5. Rules. Be honest: Who hasn’t caught themselves checking emails or browsing social media during a meeting? Set clear rules to keep your meeting productive. That means: Punctuality, everyone arrives at the appointed time, no waiting for late arrivals. Smartphones stay in the pocket and laptops stay off the tables when they’re not needed. Point out the scheduled breaks, which are for toilet visits, smokers etc. Nothing is more disturbing than constant coming and going of the participants. You are responsible for the discipline and efficiency of your meeting, so communicate these rules clearly and enforce them.

6. Any worries? Since you are pursuing a concrete goal with the meeting, which you cannot achieve without the participants, it is important to create a pleasant atmosphere. Conduct a check-in, which is automatically your first agenda item. Whether through smileys, weather symbols or numerical values – ask your participants where they would fit in. Emphasize that this classification is not intended to evaluate the person, nor to sound out private details. The purpose is to record the current personal condition without details and discussion, in order to adapt the way the meeting is conducted.

7. Put on different hats and distribute rolls. This keeps the participants active and relieves you as moderator. Alternatively, you can also assign the roles in advance and integrate them into the meeting announcement. The SOICON proposal: timekeeper, observer, moderator, minute-taker. A timekeeper ensures that the time is kept to the allocated minutes; the observer role analyses the meeting in terms of methodology and provides a constructive feedback at the end to improve future meetings. As moderator, you lead the discussion and officially close the meeting. The minute-taker saves the information in form of a protocol (do not under any circumstances have progress reports made). The roles you assign depend on the nature of your meeting. Assigning roles will help you to be serious and disciplined, so that you can keep to the schedule and produce useful results.

8. Homework! Take enough time for the end. A brief summary of the meeting, including a review of the agenda and the decisions made, is presented by the moderator. This ensures that all participants have the same understanding of the meeting’s outcomes and that everyone knows what the next steps are. Alternative endings belong to Hollywood, not to your meeting. Include topics that could not be discussed but seem relevant in the minutes under the “To Do” section. That way, no one feels left out and you don’t lose input. But most importantly, assign people to the tasks resulting from the meeting and record them in the minutes. A “we really should do this” rarely turns into results. Also define concrete deadlines for the tasks and follow-up meetings if necessary.

What’s next?

9. Share results. Send the minutes to all participants at the end. In the mail, clearly state again which results have been produced and which tasks result from them. If your organization uses planning tools like Jira or Confluence, you can assign tasks directly and upload meeting notes. It’s important that the information is clearly shared and stored.

We at SOICON live our meeting culture. Whether it’s the many green smileys at the check-ins or the concrete tasks and next steps resulting from our meetings, workshops and offsites – nobody goes to meetings with a stomachache. On the contrary: Meetings are a powerful method for achieving convincing team results. But they always need a structure that fits the organization and the teams. We at SOICON have found our structure. You too can create 2020 without unproductive meetings!

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