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Why am I here? A few thoughts about effective meetings

The meeting starts. After 5 minutes of participating you start to wonder what it is about. It feels like a total waste of your valuable time. You lose your focus and listen with only half an ear. Probably in the meantime you start to do some of your other tasks for today. Then, if someone asks you, you don’t even know what the question was about.

Sounds familiar? Depending on the organisation, its size and culture, you have probably already experienced that several times. Good news is: you can do something about it! I have gathered some tips for the organisers which should help with omitting those situations and result in more effective meetings. If you are usually a participant (rather than the organiser) - feel welcome to read it too! It’s good to know what you should expect. And don’t be afraid to share those :)

Is this a topic for a meeting?

This is the question you should always ask yourself when organising a meeting. Meetings are expensive - you use the time of each participant. Maybe sending a message would be enough? Or maybe you need to first gather some information before even deciding if the meeting is necessary? Spend a minute on that question - you can save a lot of time. Not only yours but also your colleagues’.

Goal

Imagine your friends invited you for a walk. But they forgot to mention that they actually want to climb and thought that you knew it, too. Well, you didn’t. You don’t have any equipment so you can stand there near the rocks and observe how they are doing. Great fun. Maybe by chance you have a good book with yourself so at least you can start to read it?

It’s the same with the meetings, everyone should know in advance what the purpose is. In this way they can be prepared - gather in advance all the needed information and decide whether they will have a valuable input into that meeting. Moreover, the goal will help to keep in mind the meritum of the discussion.

Expected outcomes

You have the goal of the meeting, it’s time to decide what the concrete expected output is. In other words: what will make you achieve the goal. It may be the decisions, plans or maybe you want to have the schema document by the end of the meeting. Communicate that in advance - participants will have a clearer vision of the meeting.

People

Make sure that you are inviting the right people. Have only those who are engaged in the topic and whose input will be really valuable. Don’t invite everyone “just in case”. Otherwise we end up in the meetings with 20 people where 15 of them are not focused on what someone is saying.

Agenda and timebox

Timebox of the meeting is necessary - participants should be able to plan their time. However, things can go tricky if during the meeting we discover something else and want to discuss that immediately. It’s very tempting to jump into another topic, which can be indeed very important. In the end you don’t finish your meeting within the given timebox nor reach the primary goal.

Therefore, apart from the outcomes, prepare also the agenda. It doesn’t need to be very detailed but it will help you with sticking to the plan and avoid off-topic discussions.

Notes and action points

You may have invited the right people, defined the goal, expected outcomes, agenda and timebox but if you haven’t noted anything, everyone will forget what you’ve just discussed. If you don’t feel comfortable with leading the meeting and taking notes at the same time - ask someone else to do that. Basically convert the expected output into the real one. And make sure that it is afterwards shared with all the participants.

That’s all! Don’t be afraid to organise the meetings - they are really necessary to solve some issues. Hope that sticking to those rules will result in the “Why am I here?” question being posed less and less often.

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