Thursday, January 9, 2020

A Few Meeting Best Practices

People on the internet are just bad at arguing. - Marco Arment
You've probably been attending meetings since your first day at your very first job. It is very easy for a meeting to be a waste of time, but if you're in charge of a meeting get the basics right so it runs efficiently and is valuable for people. Hearing, "I like going to her meetings!" is such a great compliment.
Here are some planning and execution tactics for your meetings to help make them run great.

Plan for Your Meeting

A meeting runs well if you plan it to run well. If you skip the planning part then you have a cascading problem. So it all starts with the efficient and clear meeting invite. You've seen invites that look like this:
What's wrong with this invite? Really, just about everything.
  • The meeting name is unclear
  • The time of the meeting is wrong
  • The duration is 1 hour long, is that right?
  • The attendee list contains the CTO, is that appropriate?
  • There is no room reserved
  • There is no web meeting / dialin available
  • There is no goal for the meeting or agenda
Here is clear version of the same meeting. If you take the extra few minutes to do a strong invite then it will help the meeting kick off well.

Good Meeting Invite Guidelines

Always have an objective for you meeting. State the goal in the invite to the meeting and present it again when you kick off the meeting. If you reach your goal by the end of your meeting, than your meeting was a success. Your goal may be to disemenate information, gather information, reach a decision by consensus, reach a decision by driving a manager to make one, but your meeting DOES have a goal. If your meeting doesn't have a goal, cancel your meeting.
Optional invitations mean something and you should be conscious of using them. This optional invite information isn't always surfaced well to the person receiving the meeting, so I recommend calling out specifically in the description why optional people have been invited to give them more information about if they want to attend.
Always have an agenda. This is how you know if you have provided too much time for your meeting or not enough for you meeting. Often people will just plop 30m onto the calendar or 60m onto the calendar and assume it "feels" about right, but the agenda allows you to check this. Guess what, people are very happy about 20m and 45m meetings too. There is no reason to chunk it into 30m. Sometimes I imagine a world where the Outlook default meeting is 20m.
I recommend starting the meeting agenda with a 5m kickoff. A good kickoff should take about 1m, so this is buffer time where you can stall for 4m before kicking off the meeting for people running late, joining the dialing, grabbing coffee, etc. It's especially important if you work in a culture of back-to-back meetings.
End your meeting agenda with a 5m wrap-up and next steps. Similar to the kickoff, these should take about 1m to do, so it's a little extra buffer time. If your meeting doesn't need this buffer time you can ALWAYS end your meeting early.

Run Your Meeting

Do your best to get to you meeting room 5m BEFORE your meeting. This lets you see if people have hijacked your room (or if there is a meeting and your presence can add an urgency to ending) and lets you be polite about asking them to leave your room.
Once you're in your room (on your call), get all the technology working. Join a screen share, conference number, share the presentation, do what needs to be done. As people arrive, greet them, and let them know the meeting hasn't started yet.

Kick off the Meeting

Clearly state that you are kicking off the meeting, the goals of the meeting, and the agenda of the meeting.
If people need to be introduced, it is your job as the facilitator to introduce them. Don't make people sit through an around-the-horn as each person intros themselves. You invited them to the meeting, you should be able to say who they are, and why they are invited.

Take Notes

A key deliverable of any meeting is the meeting notes which should include: attendees, decisions, and next steps. Meetings for information gathering would also include the gathered info.
Take your notes "on the projector" or "in the screen share" so all the participants can see your notes. Public/shared note taking in a meeting is extremely powerful. When a key decision is made people will ask to make sure it is clearly written in the notes. When there is a next step, people will ask to have the next step added to the notes with an owner and due date. People will also not be concerned about having an open laptop to write their own notes, because they'll be confident you're capturing important items and this leads to stronger engagement.
You can also delegate note taking to another trusted attendee, but you are still facilitating the note taking and make sure they are capturing things correctly.

Facilitate the Conversation

If you have planned your meeting well, with a clear goal, the right participants, and the right agenda that drives to the goal then the main facilitation technique you need is to keep people on task. When someone starts down a rathole, it may be a valuable topic, but you need to point out that it will not lead towards the meeting goal and is not on the agenda and then create a next step in the meeting notes to address the topic after the meeting. "Your concern about the privacy policy is good, but not what we're trying to address. Let me assign you a next step to raise that concern to the project lead at the risk meeting."
You can find lots of advocate on verbal facilitation techniques, but my most used tools:
  • Reinforce agreements - When you hear people agree, say that you hear it, and capture it in notes as a decision
  • Make a proposal - often useful at a stalemate, "I'm going propose we capture this as an unresolved next step and move forward. Is that good?"
  • Include quiet members - You end the meeting, and then someone who didn't speak responds to the meeting notes with FUD. So during the meeting ask, "Lindsey, do you have any concerns with this process?"

Running Over

Don't let your meetings run over. You should know early on if you're lagging behind in your agenda. If unforeseen topics, risks, or other items keep you from meeting your goal within the time, capture the progress you've made and the next steps and end your meeting on time.

End the Meeting

At the end of the meeting, review the goal and confirm if you achieved it. Review all of the next steps to make sure the owners understand their tasks and when they are due. Then, declare the meeting over. Send the meeting notes out immediately through email (or Slack or whatever you use).

In Summary

  • Prep for you meetings: Goal, Agenda, Participants
  • Send a clear and complete meeting invite
  • Start your meeting on time
  • Facilitate the meeting following your agenda towards your goal
  • Take notes publicly and clearly during the meeting
  • Wrap up by revisiting the goal, reviewing next steps, and sending out meeting notes

One Final Thought

Don't force people to come to your meetings, they should come because the meeting provides value to them.
It's tough to manage the dreaded recurring status meeting or team meeting. You need to hone the format of this meeting until people get value from it and WANT to attend it. Some people might be better just emailing in their status and receiving the meeting notes. If that achieves the goal (share status updates) then that's fine.
Title Photo by Hunter Newton on Unsplash