Everyone hates meetings – there are too many of them, they go on too long, they go off track, and they often end without clear decisions. One way to combat overly lengthy and unfocused meetings is to align your team (or whole organization) around a common set of expectations about how meetings should work.
By creating one set of meeting norms that everyone knows they should adhere to, you can dramatically overhaul how meetings operate … and save tons of person-hours in time and frustration.
Sticking to one set of meeting norms doesn’t mean that all meetings must be conducted in exactly the same way. To the contrary, you should continue to adopt the style that works best for whatever the purpose of your meeting is. But a good set of meeting norms will address the following:
- When meetings should and shouldn’t be held. You might state, for example, that meetings should be used when discussion and input is needed, but generally not for simple updates that could instead be conveyed in an email.
- What kind of prep is expected. Should organizers send background information beforehand? How far in advance? (You might say, for example, that any background info should be sent at least a day in advance and that participants are expected to come to the meeting having read it – so that you don’t spend the first 15 minutes catching everyone up on what the materials said.)
- What meeting invites should include. For example, you might specify that meeting invites should make the purpose of the meeting clear, indicate whether attendance is optional or not, and include both a start and an end time.
- Agendas. If you do nothing else on this list, at least require an agenda to be created in advance. Thinking through the agenda – even if it’s a short one – will help ensure participants’ time is spent as effectively as possible. In addition to encouraging the meeting organizer to create the agenda ahead of time, you might also encourage organizers to cancel meetings that they realize are no longer needed.
- Timing. Ideally, your norms would note that all meetings will start and end on time, and that in service of that goal, conversations that don’t involve the majority of the participants will be held for another time.
- Facilitation. You might note that every meeting should have a facilitator who’s charged with opening the meeting with a clear statement of what the group is there to accomplish, moving the agenda along, redirecting conversation as needed, capturing next steps and other takeaways (including possibly sending an email to participants after the meeting to confirm next steps, where relevant), and ensuring that the meeting wraps up on time.
Try suggesting that your team create a set of meeting norms and see if it doesn't change your meeting culture for the better.
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