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Good meetings are made, they don’t just happen


My good friend Katie Driver recently posted that “Bad meetings are worse than you think” and then went on to demonstrate exactly why that is certainly the case.  But meetings do not have to be “bad” any more that they are automatically “good.”

Because the easiest way to solve a problem is obvious, isn’t it? Just get everyone around the table (physical or virtual) and talk it out.  But in a world where diaries are full-to-overflowing, and where not everyone shares your view of what is a priority issue, how to you command attention and compel attendance?

I wouldn’t claim to have the unfailing answer, but here are some of the things I’ve used:

  • Make sure the problem is clearly articulated and understood – always a risk. If you paint too gloomy a picture too vividly, it can become an invitation to simply stop doing things – or to stop your involvement in them.
  • Make sure the objective is clearly understood – and here the peripheral benefits can gain more traction than the primary purpose.  For example, I want to rejuvenate (excuse the pun) youth engagement in our union/business/organisation. But in doing this, we can also identify and nurture the next generation of local reps, find a ready testbed for new education techniques and courses, and avoid costly duplication of resources. What’s not to like?
  • Set a date carefully, and well in advance – find out dates that you know are going to be a problem and avoid them. Departmental away-days, big policy pow-wows, peak annual leave periods. And give plenty of notice. If you on the in-person track, piggy-back on office-days or when you know people will be around for something else.
  • Personalise your invites, follow up, don’t take No for an answer – so don’t just send out emails, not even personalised ones and presume they’ve been received, read and actioned. This is important, right?  So make sure the people you want to be there know that. Reach out on a 1-to-1 basis. Go and see them in person if you can.  Get a response.  If they can’t make it, who will they send in their place?
  • Be clear about who you are inviting and why.  In our post-pandemic Zoom-land it is a lazy default to throw open to all invitations to virtual meetings.  But whether in person or on-line, everyone present must be able to contribute to solving the problem you’re trying to fix.  NPCs*, to use the vernacular, take up space, air, attention.
  • And be clear about what you’re inviting people to:  have a clear and open agenda, realistic start and finish times. If in-person, advertise good coffee and fresh pastries.
  • Run the meeting like an atomic clock. Start and finish on time. Make sure everyone gets to speak and has their unique contribution acknowledged. Is this politic or polite or just an ego massage? Who cares so long as the output is good? And if you promise best fresh-ground Ethiopian coffee and the best Danish you can get in a 10 mile radius, make sure you deliver them!
  • Follow up, follow up, follow up. Produce and circulate the notes promptly, including the date of the next session. Thank people for their attendance and contribution. Make sure there are no action points without a delivery date. Walk, talk, act like this group is a key part of the architecture.
  • Don’t wait for meetings to take action.  You’ve established a stakeholder liaison group, sure – but is not this body also an expert user group?  A living breathing centre of excellence?  A peer support network? It will be if you treat it as such.

Prepare the ground, do your homework and stay focussed.  Good meetings are made, they don’t just happen.

*That’s Non Playable Characters for those not fluent in Gaming-speak!

One thought on “Good meetings are made, they don’t just happen

  1. Thank you Simon – lots of helpful points here. The steps you suggest are all good ones, and don’t need a great deal of time or effort, so really there should be no excuse for having poor meetings!

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