Five self-discipline principles of meeting management

Convenor and participants of a meeting should exercise five self-disciple rules to ensure that the investment of time bears desired outcomes

Modern day complexities of conducting business have increased the reliance on active collaboration between executives and teams.  The need for active collaboration has consequently increased the reliance on meetings. Any professional’s typical working day is characterised by a mix of individual desk activities and collaborative mind-sharing through meetings.

While meetings have become a part and parcel of our professional lives, there is also no denying the fact that they’re not a favourite among most professionals. Besides considering meetings as one of the biggest impediments to employee productivity, many workforce surveys conducted by firms such as Hewitt, Mercer and the Corporate Leadership council across the years reveal that employees across the globe feel that meetings are a waste of time. Robert Half, a recruitment consulting firm, conducted a global survey in 2009 on the workforce’s perceptions about meetings. The results reveal that the key reason why employees feel that meetings are a waste of time is because participants lose focus and discuss anything they want, rather than the issue the meeting was called for.

Research indicates that in order to make meetings count, there are five self-discipline principles that the convenor and participants of a meeting should abide by, to ensure that meetings are productive and the investment of time bears desired results.

Script a well-defined agenda

Most participants in workforce surveys, who have complained about meetings being ineffective, note that the most common cause of meetings falling off track is the lack of a defined meeting agenda. The convenor holds accountability for clearly defining the agenda of a meeting, drilled down to the discussion points. Career consultant and prolific blogger Penelope Trunk, writer in her article that, “calling a meeting without a defined agenda is as good as not having one.”

Have realistic output expectations

Many convenors and participants enter a meeting room expecting a monumental shift in the business and operating environment.  Experts recommend that along with a clear definition of agenda, it is also necessary that the convenor and participants have a very clear understanding of what outputs are expected from the meeting. Having output expectations that are too aspirational may lead to unnecessary delays and stress. How often do we see people streaming out of meetings red-faced and flustered because the end-time stretched by hours? Craig Jarrow, author and business consultant, writes in his article, “meetings cost money and it is important to have clear output expectations before blocking a dozen of your senior managers in a room for 2 hours.”

Clearly communicate a start-time and end-time and stick to it

A meeting involves multiple participants who have different responsibilities, and widely-varied personal and professional preferences. It is unfair to expect that all meeting participants will be comfortable sparing the extra hour without upsetting his/her personal and professional obligations. It is the convenor’s responsibility to communicate a start and end-time to a meeting and assign a timekeeper.  An article published by the Human Resources magazine highlights the importance of communicating the start and end times so that the group is better prepared with their arguments and discussion points. Communicating the start and end times give participants a good sense of the time they invest in discussing every individual point of the agenda.

Ensure minimal distractions

A typical modern-day meeting is characterised by several participants taking phone calls and writing and responding to e-mails on their laptops. These distract other participants and many lose focus. Jarrow mentions that as a rule, many organisations have started convening “topless meetings” where laptops are banned and a phone-bowl is placed at the meeting room door for participants to drop their phones while entering the meeting.

Document clearly

It is important to assign one designated participant to take meeting notes and circulate it among all the participants after the meeting concludes. The convenor should share the original plan and meeting agenda with the note-taker, and read and verify the minutes-of-the meeting before they’re sent out.

While there is no debating the importance of meetings in a modern-day business environment, they can quickly lose their value when the convenor and participants lose focus. While there are several factors that contribute to meeting discipline, it is important that both the convenor and participants have a clear idea of the agenda and prepare themselves in advance so that meetings do not spill over time, lose focus, or end up with outputs that are not aligned with the expectations of the group.

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