Thursday, August 11, 2011

Tips to Conduct Successful Meetings

Meetings are normally conducted to help discuss certain problems or options and come up with a viable solution. There can be different kinds of meetings such as:
1)      Meetings with clients to sell, to discuss on strategies to provide the best service, to trouble shoot problems related to product/ service etc….
2)      Meetings with internal stakeholders within the company on project kick offs, phase reviews, knowledge transfer, and coming up with a new product, solution or approach to problem solving etc…
3)      Meetings within the team, such as team members to discuss on a problem at hand, or a review etc…
4)      Meeting with one’s own boss, boss’s boss, peers, sub-ordinates, for various purposes such as departmental reviews, status updates, appraisals etc..
5)      The reasons why a meeting can be conducted is endless.
Many professionals think that meetings are a waste of time and nothing is achieved out of it. But the fact is that it is a vicious circle created by many who think this way. There are genuine reasons to have meetings when you know that collective or subjective wisdom can help achieve the goals/solve problems and necessary actions can be taken. At least, it can help provide the right direction.
However, at the same time, I am surprised to see many executives who spend endless hours attending one meeting after another and at the end of the day achieve nothing in action. I wonder if such executives achieve any valuable results or not.
So, the idea is to have a balanced approach. I would rather advise to attend those meetings that are must and one must appropriately prioritise. In fact, there are many things that can be done by just a phone call, or just passing by the desk of another colleague and sorting out the confusions. NEVER organise meetings that is basically to solve some point of disagreement between two colleagues where rest of the participants in the meeting are just watchers. Such kind of situations can be sorted out between the colleagues internally or at best at the level of their immediate superiors in a closed door discussion.
However, in spite of all the kinds of meetings and the wisdom that surround meetings, there are some fundamental rules that can help one to achieve success in achieving the objectives for which the meeting was originally asked for.
Here, based on my experience, I have tried to simplify it and put across these fundamental points that are very useful in almost any kind of meeting. For the sake of simplicity, I have put it in three phases:
PHASE 1: PREPARATION
Anything that we do needs some level of basic preparation. Similarly, it is important to take out some time to prepare and plan out the meeting.
1)      AGENDA: First and foremost, ensure that you warm up with the most basic thing in place…. The agenda….
Ensure that the purpose of the meeting is clearly stated. This is the barest minimum you need to do to hold a meeting, in the first place. Ensure that the agenda has a topic, and clearly listed out points that need to be discussed or sorted out.
2)      PLAN: A plan is needed to clarify the purpose and the approach towards the meeting
Once you have a purpose and an agenda in place, plan out on whom all are necessary and useful to help achieve the desired goal of the meeting. The plan should also contain a venue. The venue should be such that it is by far possible for all to join. Ensure that seats and desks are available for all participants. Timing should also be planned as per the availability of all the participants, and this can at time, become daunting especially if it involves busy top executives. Finally, send out the meeting invite with clearly stated agenda, List of points for discussion, objective to be achieved, venue, time to the appropriate stake holders/ participants. If a participant cannot make it to the meeting, ensure that his representative can take appropriate decision or at least contribute ideas instead of just being a bystander.
PHASE 2: EXECUTION
1)      BASIC ETTIQUETTES: Coming on time, informing the chair person in case one cannot make it to the meeting etc..  All comes under basic etiquettes….
Imagine one going for an interview. The person would ensure that he reaches the venue before time, prepares himself well before the interview, and presents himself appropriately and so on… In fact the same rule lies when we all come for a meeting.
2)      EXECUTING: Ensure that the meeting is used for discussing the right points as in the agenda and uses everyone’s time in a productive way.
For this, it is important that all participants’ points of view are taken into consideration, everyone gets the chance to talk, and that ONLY the relevant points are discussed. Any one deviating from the objective should be respectfully asked to stick to the agenda and that any new points arising can be discussed at the end of the meeting (if time remains) or in the next subsequent meeting. Ensure that minutes of the meeting are maintained by a responsible and identified person. MOM should not be assumed to be maintained by all participants. Ensure that arguments and quarrels are kept aside and if any such incident is seen happening, are immediately mitigated. Once the duration of the meeting is coming to a close, give gentle reminders to ensure people wind up quickly.
PHASE 3: CLOSING & POST MEETING
1)      Closing the meeting: This should be done by  summing up what was achieved in the meeting, on action points and future follow up meeting date (if required)
Here, ensure that the objective achieved is measured and stated. If any agenda is left pending, check if all the participants have any additional time to pick it up, else, arrange a next round of meeting to pick up those. All actions along with their owners should be summed up to prevent any ambiguity on who is to work on what. Please don’t forget to thank everyone for their valuable time and effort at the end of the meeting.
2)      Post Meeting: Distribute the MOM and the actions, with a clear list of their owners. For this, it is a good idea to use project or organisational process assets to maintain the meeting details, actions and history in a centralised place accessible to all who attended the meeting or those who will be affected by the outcome of the meeting. Send a separate invite for the next round of follow up meeting with the updated agenda, venue, time and participants.
Hope you all derive benefit from these tips and make your meetings more successful.

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