Some suggestions are to call such sessions:
Forums (for open discussion, to share ideas, to give feedback, to ask for help/coaching/guidance and suggestions). These sessions are purely business focussed.
Mastermind Sessions. Similar to above, however after the business of the team or department is finished then the last 15 minutes can be spent on individual and personal time.
However, if some people feel this is purely semantics and a meeting is a meeting, then these are my suggestions for making the best use of the time together and the brain power in the room:
Making the most of meetings:
1. Conduct some pre work - ask some questions:
- Why do we have the meeting at all?
- Who really needs to be there?
- Do people need to be there for the whole of the meeting?
- When is the best time to have the meeting?
- Where is the best place to hold the meeting?
- How much notice do people need?
- Do they need notice at all - if we have regular meetings shouldn't people take responsibility for diarising the meeting for themselves?
- What do people need to bring?
- How long will the meeting last?
- Who will chair it?
- Who will take minutes?
- Do we really need minutes or could someone simply summarise the action points?
- What (if any)are the consequences for people not doing what they said they would do?
2. Meetings must have AN AGENDA! People need to know in advance what is to be covered so they can come to the meeting prepared.
3. They must have an assertive leader - someone who can keep things on track; put a halt to undue negativity; bring things to a conclusion in a way that everyone feels they have been heard and then set clearly defined action points around who is responsible for what and by when.
However, it is important that the chair person doesn't talk for the whole meeting....meetings are about involving others - not about having a talking head. If one person hogs the meeting, no matter who that person is, then people will eventually switch off.
It is in such meetings that the chair person often remarks ‘How come no-one says anything IN the meeting yet have plenty to say out in the lunch-room?' It's because they are not given an opportunity to say anything!
4. Inform those who need to be there and send them the agenda.
5. Start the meeting by agreeing some ground rules for future meetings i.e.
- Our meetings will start on time and finish on time. If people show up late that is their problem - we will not go back to cover what has been said. It soon sends a message that if you are late you will miss valuable information.
- Agree on time frame at the beginning - we plan to be out of here by ....
- Agree on a frame of reference (what I want to achieve today is x, if we have time I would like to discuss y and if we then have further time left, we can look at z.)
- To maximise time for people, use a 1/3, 1/3, 1/3 principle and have a time keeper. The first third of the meeting will be about last week (or month) depending on how often you plan to have your meetings. The Second third is to go over the coming month - what projects are in place, who will be on leave, what deadlines are due; and the final third of the meeting to be about general business - the thing we usually give one or two minutes to but which is actually the most important part of the meeting. This is for ideas, issues, concerns, success stories - whatever. This is also the working ON the business whereas the first 2/3rds of the meeting are the working IN
- Other issues you run out of time for can be put on an issues board for next meeting
- Agree on process for "other business". It may be worthwhile every now and again to have a meeting dedicated solely to ‘other business'
- Keep on task and on track
- Swap the chair regularly
- Swap the timekeeper regularly
- Who will do what and by when
- What will happen to items of "other business"
- Set date for next meeting
- Who will chair next meeting/take minutes be the timekeeper
NB. The chair is responsible for:
- Keeping things on track
- Knowing when to give people time to discuss an issue, when to move on
- Knowing how to deal with disagreements (i.e. it sounds like we have two very different opinions on this, what do others think?)
- Keeping everyone focused on tasks not personalities
- Letting everyone have input
- Not letting anyone dominate (social styles)
- Accountability - if someone said they would do something and they didn't why did they not let someone know?
- Reviewing the meeting process - what is going well? What could we do better?
As a Leader/manager, meetings are the most important tool you have for many reasons, they are:
- A rare opportunity to get everyone together
- A chance to chew the fat, catch up, find out who is doing what and who may need support.
- A chance to compare results - who is doing well, who needs support?
Vary the reason for the meetings:
Grump sessions - let everyone get things off their chest - in a safe way of course. A talking stick is a good idea for this - each person to have two minutes with the talking stick to say how they are feeling right now. I statements only and no names need be mentioned - stick to behaviours.
- Brainstorming sessions
- Strategic thinking session
LARGE MEETINGS - Every two/three months to share the strategic information on the company (a state of the nation) plus an opportunity for people to ask questions and a chance to hear, meet and involve EVERYONE.
BRAINSTORMING/CREATIVITY SESSIONS - these are NOT for general business, they are to get everyone together to come up with new ideas...
- Each group to come up with 50 new ideas for improvement. Have people decide - is this Long term/medium term/short term/immediate
- Of the immediate - who will do what/by when/what support do they need OR
- Guest speakers (from o/side the organisation, from within the organisation)
- Different people share information/success stories (best practices)
- Socialise afterwards
- Ask them what they would like or how you could do it differently
- Accept that some people may not contribute
TRY ALL OF THE ABOVE! Don't be afraid of meetings. Experiment; gain feedback; ask for ideas and input as to how they can be better. Make them work for you; after all, this is the key opportunity to start the 30% delegation process and enable you and your other key managers to start working ON the business not IN the business. It is also a rare opportunity for employees to become more involved in the big picture, not only by in sharing ideas for the day to day, but by actually taking responsibility for much of the ideas that come out of the sessions (moving from parent/child to adult/adult).