In improving the effectiveness of meetings, the most important question to ask is “Why are we having this meeting now?”
- What is the purpose of this meeting?
- Why is this subject being presented?
- Why does this particular issue need to be covered right now?
- Given the answers to the above questions, who should attend?
Since business is about achieving tangible results, the purpose of meetings (and of each of the agenda items) can be expressed as some sort of objective or goal – in other words, an outcome. Getting into outcome thinking mode, both in setting up and running a meeting, is one of the keys to more productive and successful meetings.
For every item on the agenda, it will be possible to drill down and establish why it needs to be discussed. From a business perspective, there are several reasons for wanting to discuss an item, including:
- Note – work has been done, the assumption is that a document has been read and the result is accepted as a matter of record. Discussion should be by exception.
- Inform – work has been done and the team is being updated on current status. Part of the updating is asking questions for clarification, and providing feedback to the person doing the work.
- Approve – work has been completed, and formal sign-off is requested. Any discussion/questions are related to whether sign-off can be achieved.
- Decide – A decision, from a variety of possibilities, is sought from the team. This is the one which has most scope for getting out of control because people take different positions. In reality, the person responsible for all decisions at an exec meeting is the team leader – and the purpose of a discussion is to enable the team leader to come to a decision and win consensus as best he or she can. When these items are re-framed in this way, there is much better scope for coming to a conclusion.
- Stimulate debate – This is similar to the previous item but allows the possibility of hearing alternative suggestions which could lead to a decision on next steps.
In order for the meeting to remain focused on outcomes, each agenda item should carry an explanation of its desired outcome and some description of the evidence of achievement. This will enable all the participants to focus their comments on this outcome, and the person running the meeting to manage it towards its agreed outcomes.
An outcome-driven approach will also make it politically appropriate that only those people who can contribute to the achievement of the outcomes should attend.