“The least productive people are usually the ones who are most in favor of holding meetings.” – Thomas Sowell
Team meetings are often seen as nothing but time wasters. Few people look forward to team meetings, and with good reason. Too many meetings lack purpose and structure. However, with just a few tools, you can make any team meeting a much better use of everyone’s time.
Deciding if a Team Meeting is Necessary
The first thing you need to decide is if a formal meeting is necessary. Perhaps those morning meetings could be reduced to a few times a week instead of every day, or maybe they could take place over morning coffee and be more informal. If a formal meeting is necessary, divide your attendees into two groups: participants and observers. Let people know what group they belong in so that they can decide whether they want to attend. If you send out a report after the meeting, that may be enough for some people.
How to Prepare for and Schedule Team Meetings
We use the PAT approach to prepare for and schedule team meetings.
Purpose: What is the purpose of the meeting? We usually state this in one short sentence. Example: “This meeting is to review the new invoice signing policy.” This helps people evaluate if they need to be there. It will also help you build the agenda and determine if the meeting was successful.
Agenda: This is the backbone of the team meeting. It should be created well in advance of the meeting, sent to all participants and observers, and be used during the meeting to keep things on track.
Time frame: How long will the meeting be? Typically, meetings should not exceed one hour. (In fact, we recommend a fifty minute meeting, starting at five past the hour and ending five minutes before the hour.) If the team meeting needs to be longer, make sure you include breaks, or divide it into two or more sessions.
Building the Agenda
Before the team meeting, make a list of what needs to be discussed, how long you believe it will take, and the person who will be presenting the item. Once the agenda is complete, send it to all participants and observers, preferably with the meeting request, and preferably two to three days before the meeting. Make sure you ask for everyone’s approval, including additions or deletions. If you do make changes, send out a single updated copy 24 hours before the meeting.
Keeping The Team Meeting on Track
Before the team meeting, post the agenda on a flip chart, whiteboard, or PowerPoint slide. Spend the first five minutes of the meeting going over the agenda and getting approval. During the meeting, take minutes with the agenda as a framework.
Your job as chairperson is to keep the meeting running according to the agenda. If an item runs past its scheduled time, ask the team if they think more time is needed to discuss the item. If so, how do they want to handle it? They can reduce the time for other items, remove other items altogether, schedule an offline follow-up session, or schedule another meeting. No matter what the team agrees to, make sure that they stick to their decision.
At the end of the meeting, get agreement that all items on the agenda were sufficiently covered. This will identify any gaps that may require follow-up and it will give the team a positive sense of accomplishment about the meeting.
Making Sure the Meeting Was Worthwhile
After the team meeting, send out a summary of the meeting, including action items, to all participants and observers, and anyone else who requires a copy. Action items should be clearly indicated, with start and end dates, and progress dates if applicable. If follow-up meetings were scheduled, these should also be communicated.
Alternatives to Meetings
Sometimes, a face-to-face meeting isn’t the best solution. The following are some alternatives to meetings that can help you and your team save time and be more productive.
Instant Messaging and Chat Rooms
Instant message applications and chat rooms can be a great alternative to meetings, especially if meeting members are separated by distance.
If more personal contact and real-time sharing are needed, try a teleconferencing system like Adobe’s Acrobat.com, Microsoft Live Meeting, or Citrix’s GoToMeeting.
Email Lists and Online Groups
If your meeting group requires ongoing, interactive communication, rather than periodic face-to-face gatherings, an e-mail list, forum, or online group can be an effective tool.
A few things to keep in mind if you are going to use this sort of solution:
Having a moderator is essential. These types of tools can quickly get out of control without proper supervision. You’ll want to make sure members stay on topic and stay professional.
Make sure you monitor the time spent on these tools. Setting a daily or weekly update or delivery time might be a good idea.
Just like a meeting, an online list or group should have a purpose and stick to it.