Meetings generally have a bad reputation. Roughly speaking the perception is that they get in the way of doing one’s work and don’t achieve much. At Crunchers, we disagree, in fact we see them as a vital component in driving a business forward. Let us explain…
One major reason that small businesses suffer is that so much time is spent delivering the product or service and so little on getting the business to function better. In turn the reason that so little of this happens is that the work of developing the business is important but never urgent. It is forever slipping off the to do list if it ever gets on there to begin with.
In corporate world things are different, management makes sure that these important but not urgent things do not slip off the list and the way they do that is fundamentally in two ways. First someone is made accountable for whatever is required and then they are held accountable at regular meetings.
In small business, whilst it is possible that we are unclear who is accountable, it is more common that we know who is accountable but that no-one gets held accountable. In other words we need the meeting to be reminded of what we said we’d do, to keep things in front of us and make sure they get completed. Otherwise things fall through the cracks. The dysfunctional aspects of our business hang around dragging us down for months and years.
The other powerful aspect to a meeting is providing a space for problem solving and for identifying opportunities and bright ideas. Sometimes you only know a problem is a problem when the right people are sat together with the time and space to discuss. And sometimes you only identify an opportunity when you join the dots of information in three people’s heads around a table.
Perhaps one of the reasons that they have a bad reputation is that they can be badly run. So with this in mind we have some recommendations for running excellent meetings.
- Make them regular and predictable. People generally get in action in the run up to a meeting because they know they don’t want the embarrassment of not having done whatever they said they would. So make sure people know when the next meeting is. Schedule them ahead with enough time for things to move forward but so long that they can get forgotten.
- Identify the person who will chair the meeting. The chair is a crucial role in any meeting. They make sure the meeting is set up right, that it runs on time, that it is recorded, that everyone gets included and that conversations are brought to a conclusion that moves things on. It is a quite a skill. You may not have someone experienced to chair the meeting, but at least make sure someone knows that is their job so they can start to learn how to do it well.
- Send out an agenda ahead of time with any important documents to be discussed. This will give people a reminder to get onto their to do lists, it will also give people the chance to prepare the meeting which should improve the focus of the conversation and finally it allows for a heads up on serious issues coming up for discussion.
- Keep to the agenda and the time. The discipline of keeping to agenda and keeping to a time limit will mean that the most important items get the time and energy they deserve. The ideal length for a meeting is one hour in our opinion.
- Keep minutes and send them out. Writing good minutes is another art form in itself. The meeting doesn’t need to be reported verbatim, but decisions, actions must be recorded and if there are important differences of opinion these will be important to refer back to down the line.
We also have template agenda which will work for most if not all meetings, certainly it contains elements that we think are vital for really effective meetings:
- Introductions and Update. We need an opportunity to get related. So one function of this part is to hear from everyone. There may also be things that are relevant that not everyone knows. So our first item on the agenda is an opportunity for an update from everyone at the meeting.
- Review. Now we need to know what happened on the ground in terms of results since the last meeting. We will need to hear key metrics, so for example if we are in a sales meeting we will want to know if we met our sales target. We also need to hear in this section whether people took the actions they said they would so we need to go through the actions from the last meeting. This is different to the update in that it is focused on the key metrics and actions relevant to whatever it is the group is working on. Our recommendation is not for this to become a lengthy inquiry into any breakdowns but for everyone to see what happened on the ground in reality. The breakdowns can then be added to the Issues section as appropriate (see below).
- Vision. Before we get into the issues to be discussed we also need to vision for we want to get to. If the business has a mission statement, it should get read out here. And the goals for the year or quarter should also get read out so that what follows is a discussion that moves the business forward in its aims.
- Issues. Here is where we address any breakdowns, it is also where we can deal with any problems that are arising that threaten us achieving our medium or long term goals. It is an opportunity for problem solving. It is an opportunity to support people where they are falling behind or to give them a kick up the backside if that is needed.
- Opportunities. People have ideas. Many we won’t be able to action because time is limited but this section gives us the chance to capture the creativity of our team and business opportunities as they arise even if they need to go onto the back burner.
- Goals to the next meeting. Now we need to set up the game for the next meeting. As required we will set targets, we will set up projects to work on and make sure that everyone is clear on their accountabilities.
- Date of the Next Meeting. Finally we need to make sure the next meeting is in the diary so that everyone knows the time limit they are working to.
In fact Crunchers believes so much in the power of meetings that the meeting module forms a core part of our software GoalDriver functionality which has in turn been split off into a stand alone product called Agendali. If you did nothing else this year, you could make a big difference to your business by upgrading your meetings.