Changing your meeting culture – protocol for great meetings

This post came about following a conversation with a client of mine who was frustrated that his team were not as enthused as he would like on the usual Monday call. After some discussion, it became obvious that whilst the format of the Monday meeting had been set up (some time ago) to be a time to talk about jobs for the week, acknowledge great work and flag any issues or opportunities – a time to ‘connect’ so to speak – it was, in reality, time spent dishing out more work to team members who had barely finished their first coffee and probably only just worked out their ‘to do’ list for the week.

Research shows that the number of workplace meetings have increased in length and frequency. In the UK alone, office workers are spending almost an entire working day every week attending and preparing for meetings. The average office worker spends 10 hours 42 minutes every week, preparing for and attending 4.4 meetings, with 2.6 of those deemed unnecessary. (Eshare)

I think we can all agree, that’s a lot of meetings.

Whilst MD at a large agency a number of years ago, I fostered a weekly ‘round the kitchen table’ meeting. It lasted 40 minutes and was about talking openly about client relationships, how the team were feeling and getting to grips with the not so pretty stuff, as well as having a great time simply talking to each other. People would work flat out and deliberately plan other calls so they could make this one weekly meeting. It’s probably worth noting that this meeting was a voluntary one – no one was forced to be there. So why did it work?

Bear with me, I think I’m getting somewhere.

It’s easy to assume that the only reason these ‘round the kitchen table’ chats were popular was that they required no client work-based output, but I think it’s something more. If you have faith in your team, you’ll know that they actually enjoy the work they do, so that’s not really the issue. Both ‘output’ and ‘culture’ meetings have their place.

It’s the meeting protocol that requires attention.

Good, well managed meetings are a real conduit for change. They are more than just coordinating people, actions and taking decisions. They are a time to be acknowledged by colleagues and an opportunity for people at work to get information and align thinking, socialise, enjoy other people’s company, and sometimes, in a good way, can also become an occasion to complain and express frustration.

Great meetings – regardless what they cover- follow great meeting protocol. Here are just a few ways to assess and better your meeting culture:

Clarify Purpose & Objectives:

The root cause for the negativity towards certain meetings is because the real purpose of the meeting is misunderstood or doesn’t exist. Determine the type of meeting, is it a status update meeting? Information sharing meeting? Decision making meeting? Problem solving meeting? Innovation meeting? Or a team building meeting? Then ensure you have established clear goals for the meeting. People like to know why they are there, make it so.

Consider your ‘hat’

If you’re a business leader or founder – you’ll often be involved in meetings at board level, management level and line manager level. Remember where possible to let other team members lead meetings most appropriate to them – and don’t join a project coordination meeting with your board level strategy hat on.

Review the frequency of regular meetings. When something has ‘always been’ it’s likely in need of some review, or at least some tweaking. Take your Monday meeting. Is it necessary? If it is, does the purpose and frequency require some attention? For my client, just recognising that the agenda needed some attention has already made a huge impact on team morale. It’s worth considering.

Check the right people are attending. If you need certain people to make decisions and they cannot attend, cancel. If you need to make decisions in a meeting, limit the numbers to the real decision makers – then share those decisions afterwards. Too many cooks and all that malarkey…

Have respect. Respect your teams time. Consider if those invites are really necessary for the invitees. Meetings often slow down or interrupt good work and they are often scheduled by those ‘at the top’ with little regard for those who will be required to attend AND produce client work on time.

Time is much more than money. Start on time. End on time. Keep to the agenda. I repeat, respect your teams time. Let them have some white space on their calendars.

Allow for preparation. Send over agendas, pre reads and background documents beforehand.  Allow people to come prepared and ready to input. Try to avoid making adjustments to requirements just before you meet.

Encourage feedback. Allow people to audit your meeting. Was it necessary/useful? This will be great feedback for the next time you plan a meeting.

Leave with an action plan. No one likes to feel like they’ve attended a meeting for no reason, make sure you are clear on the action plan, and email it round afterwards with a thank you and for additional clarity.

Whether your meeting is about budgets, scheduling in work or a team celebration – always remember to try to align your business strategy with your people in mind. Protect your teams time and be clear about what the meeting is for, you’ll be surprised how much more enthusiasm people will arrive with if they know the meeting will be well managed.

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