Making meetings matter

Meetings are a big part of life in business. But why do people so often find them unsatisfactory? Why do they dread them or want to have fewer of them?

Great meetings create energy and momentum. The best meetings, more often than not, are where the big breakthroughs on thinking or negotiation are made. If you want to achieve a change then or get something complex done, then you have to meet with others. And getting those meetings right should be a priority. Especially when they involve those outside of the organisation: customers, stakeholders, funders, etc.

You can think of meetings as the joints in the organisational body – the points of connection that make things happen. You want those joints to be healthy and flexible and full of energy, not tired, aching and a weak point. Getting lots of work done through great meetings should be effortless.

So knowing how to plan and run an important meeting should be a core competence for all. To help you, here are our ‘7 Ps’ for perfect meetings:

  1. Purpose – always be crystal clear on the reason for holding the meeting. We find it best to ask: what is the single overarching question to be answered at the meeting? This helps clarify what really needs to be done as opposed to the long wish list of aims and outcomes that many meetings are designed around. Try to make sure the question takes the thinking on – so that the meeting adds something fresh and is not just revisiting things that have already been talked about. Then think, what would success look like? What would happen if the session failed? Having these things in mind, you can then turn to who you need to be there.
  2. Participants – get the right people at the meeting, the people you need to fulfil its purpose. Knowing who is invited, who is coming and who you might be accidentally missing is a useful first step. Being open to inviting (or de-inviting) more people can help make sure you have exactly the right group. Don’t invite people for the sake of it or because they think they ought to be there.
  3. Principles – meetings can have all sorts of formats and styles. What principles should you have for designing the meeting in terms of: the balance between information giving/interaction; the mix of the familiar and the more stretching; the attention to different learning styles (visual, kinaesthetic as well as aural)? At this stage, you also need to decide on what you will ask people to do in advance of the meeting.
  4. Pre-work – finding out in advance what people are thinking is pretty much essential to firm up both the focus and form of the meeting. Understanding the personalities and learning style of the group is also important. We find sending round a few questions by email or running a websurvey is hugely valuable at this stage. And it might even be useful to do some one-to-one or phone interviews with key participants or get some video comments from people who can’t be there on the day.
  5. Place – this is almost always underestimated in terms of importance (and yet everyone has been in some terrible rooms for meetings). Try to get the best possible meeting space and change the room format to reflect the task. This doesn’t need to be expensive. You can be creative and look for low and no-cost options. Remember: natural light and good temperature control can have a big impact on how the meeting goes – we are all humans after all and these things matter!
  6. Process – with the first 5Ps taking shape, you can now think about the process for the meeting. This combines both the agenda (the parts of the meeting) with the tools and techniques that you can use to run it. There are literally dozens of options for how to structure an agenda – from the formal mechanisms in a Governance Board to the creativity of a brainstorm to the focus of a knowledge sharing session. If you’d like more ideas on what you could do for a particular meeting, just drop us a line and we’ll happily share more.
  7. Post-event – a lot of people don’t like meetings because what is agreed at them then doesn’t happen afterwards. In our experience, at least half the effort around a meeting needs to be focused on ensuring great follow-up. First, ensure you capture the discussions effectively - “without a record, there is little memory; with no memory, there can be no follow-through.” Experiment with different forms of capture at the meeting beyond traditional note taking (eg live capture of discussions to screen, poster templates for people to fill in, take photos of outputs, etc). Second, line up people and other resources for progressing actions after the meeting. Third, plan in time for a review after an appropriate amount of time (eg 2 weeks, 3 months). Only by pausing to see how things have gone (and learn the lessons from any differences), can you get it even better the next time round – see for some ideas on how to do such a review.

Do try these 7Ps out for your next important meeting. Make it a great one!

Get a WOW!

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And the winner is…

The winner of our best photo from the Christmas briefing was Stephen Peake: The box of chocolates has been safely delivered.

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Here is a round-up of some of the recent entries.

Is your strategy working?

Finding a taxi around Elephant and Castle in south London has often proved hard.

Until yesterday, when one came along the road as I stepped out of a meeting. Chatting to the driver, I mentioned the challenge of finding a cab there. He said he went up that road regularly every day. Having dropped a passenger in central London or the City, his strategy is to return to the King’s Road in west London via Blackfriars Bridge and Lambeth. And it works. He never has any problem “making his money”. Other cabbies, he said, often sit on ranks in the City for half an hour waiting for a fare to come along.

Everyone needs a strategy. If you are a high-tech company, are you going to licence your IP, provide a service or become a product company? If you are a hospital, how are you going to continue making life better for patients in the face of funding pressures?

Without a strategy, achieving your goals is just luck. How is your strategy working?

Great design – functional as well as beautiful

Around London, there are fancy developments with steps like these…funky, nice looking BUT functional?

Great design is a combination of beauty and ease. Think about your favourite home appliance or piece of furniture.

Here, the interesting angles and absence of lots of hand rails looks good but is tricky for the visually impaired and the infirm.

In business, where do things that appear nice make things harder? That paper on a tricky topic? That set piece meeting or conference?

Get it done this week

We all know the challenge: we have something important on the ‘to do’ list but we don’t get it done. It hangs over us. We worry about it. We set time aside to crack it but those hours come and go and we seem to have filled them with other things.

Try this to break that pattern:

- focus on the one thing that you really need to get done. Force yourself to prioritise and be ruthless about rescheduling everything else to fit around that.

- energise yourself by meeting with the right people. Involving others in the thinking is a great way to get your mind moving. The right people are those that can contribute the necessary perspectives and constructive ideas.

- find the right space to work in for the bits you need to do by yourself (hint: it might not be the office nor home – try a cafe, the botanic gardens, a walk).

- shut off (or switch off) the activities that distract and fill the time. Email is the worst. At its best, the mind gets into a flow, as when you are effortlessly doing something you enjoy like gardening, crosswords or playing music (and the hours fly by). You need to give it some time to get into this.

Got something important to do? Why not get it done this week?

Make sure your change is an improvement

Every improvement involves change but not every change is an improvement.

Travelling a lot by train, the national rail enquiries website is an invaluable source of train time information. The simple interface worked well and with a few clicks you had all the details you needed.

Now they’ve changed it as part of a revamp to the site. The result? It may look a bit better (can a train timetable site ever look cool?) but it’s clunkier as the text in the search boxes isn’t automatically over-typed, the drop down menus are slower and it’s not as easy just to get train times for today.

Why make life harder for customers? At the very least, make sure some of the team/web designers/public compare how it works before and after to be absolutely sure it’s as good as before.

Contrast that with Ocado online shopping. They make regular tweaks to the site and every one manages to make it easier and more satisfying to shop with them.

It’s a lesson for us all. Whatever the reasons you embark on making a change, make sure it ends up as something customers will agree is an improvement.

I’m off now to get the 0943.

Changing polarities

Management not Administration.

Leadership not Management.

Transformative not Transactional Leadership.

All are familiar polarities.

Replace the “not” with “and” – and we are starting to get there.

And what is leadership? Our definition: “Leadership comes from anyone who wants to make a difference to the thinking and actions of others.”

Influence more than instruct. Encourage rather than demand.

This is relevant for executive and line managers. For workers ‘at the bottom’. As customers. As consultants.

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The scientific method: for AND against

The magical mist or the ghouls?

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