The 10 Key Ingredients of a Successful Meeting
In this article, we explore the 10 key ingredients that lead to consistently successful meetings. With meetings so commonplace, most professionals don't mind the occasional unproductive meeting. We look into the harm this lack of structure can cause and some helpful tips to get you on track.
At Knowtworthy, we are constantly researching ways to improve our software to better suit our users. We found Eli Mina's book on the subject particularly interesting and we've added our core takeaways about it below.
Author Eli Mina gives a different perspective on meetings than what most people would assume. With meetings such a commonplace occurrence for anyone in the workforce, most professionals won’t bat an eye at the occasional unproductive meeting. However, the author challenges this idea and proposes that meetings are a serious monetary investment by every team. The financial costs associated with a meeting can often be higher than the participants realize. The author opens our eyes to this issue, allowing us to think more critically about meetings and whether or not they are actually moving us toward our goals.
1. Clarity of Mandate, Purpose, Issues, and Process
When working in meetings, the purpose of the team and of the meeting must be clear. If the meeting’s purpose is not in line with its intended goal, then teams will gain nothing by holding the meeting. One way to enforce the purpose of the meeting is to state explicitly the purpose of each meeting before it begins, ensuring that each team member is aligned to a common goal. On an individual meeting basis, the issues discussed must be clear and understood by the decision-makers. One way to make sure that the issues are known is to create an agenda and to make a copy for each member.
2. Order and Decorum
Controlling the order in a meeting is easier said than done. Overall, there must be a few requirements in place for the participants. First, each member should be able to speak without interruption. Second, each member should be respectful to his or her peers. Having a history of respect and trust in a team is the number one indicator of the success of that team. Maintaining order and respect in meetings can take your team to the next level and push innovation more rapidly.
3. Productivity and Forward Movement
“A good meeting moves forward at an appropriate pace allowing the members to make timely progress along a predefined agenda. … The general premise is that time is money and meetings are expensive.” (37)
To increase the productivity of a meeting many steps can be taken beforehand. One of these steps is making an agenda that is well structured to keep the discussion on track and moving forward. During the meeting recording, all the action items and decisions can lead to an improvement in productivity as each member won’t be lost afterwards.
4. Flexibility and Creative Thinking
Sometimes in a meeting, you need to break out of the usual routine to have a creative exercise with your team. Coming up with innovative solutions to problems cannot simply be solved by implementing more order, but must come from a different perspective. To create an environment where creativity is desired, loosening the agenda and its structure can let the discussion flow and more ideas can be entertained. In extreme cases, having completely unstructured conversations for a set time has the potential to produce the best ideas.
5. Informed Decision Making
“The success of a meeting is ultimately measured by the quality of decisions made in it.” (41)
Making decisions as a team has no standard template for success but can often be the most critical action the team makes. There are a few steps that can be taken to prevent some poor decisions from being made. Distributing documents before a meeting can prevent members from making uninformed decisions. Additionally, allowing for enough discussion time around each decision point can give each participant time to voice their opinions and discover new ideas.
6. Openness, Listening, and Collaboration
“If time is to be spent in a meaningful way and if the debate is to stand a chance of truly making difference, members must come to the meeting with an open mind.” (43)
Openness, listening, and collaboration are the three elements that separate working in a team vs. working alone and they are the three elements that can make teams more effective than the individuals that make up them. However, occasionally, there are a few individuals that can hinder the meeting for everyone else. Having an intervention with these people can help keep future meetings on track and can lead to more open meetings.
7. Balance, Inclusion, and Equality
“Hoping for equal participation in a meeting is laudable, but hope alone won’t do it. Concrete steps must be taken to achieve balanced participation, or else the most outspoken, assertive, or knowledgeable members will dominate.” (45)
Having a balanced discussion can be the factor that makes or breaks a team. If each team member doesn’t have the opportunity to raise their opinion then they can be discouraged from working on the project and ultimately lower team deliverables. One interesting remedial technique is to have meetings for different subsets of the team and vary their activities based on what makes them most comfortable.
8. Shared Responsibility
“... Every time you point the finger of blame at someone else, you fail to consider the three fingers pointing in your direction.” (46)
Having a lack of shared responsibility can be directly tied to the culture of the team. Teams who succeed and fail together share the responsibilities they have as a team and do better because of it, whereas ones who blame each other end up hurting their cause. Creating a culture of shared responsibility is key to making each member of a team feel valued and trusted.
9. Variety and a Light Touch
A good meeting should make each individual driven to complete his or her project. Unfortunately, this doesn't always happen as the lull of repetitive meetings can get in the way of actually progressing the project. Reinvigorating the meeting should be done every now and then to prevent stale conversation. Sometimes bringing in an outside speaker can make the meeting experience better and can give the team new ideas to think about by introducing a diversity of thought. Think about inviting an end-user of your team's work to your meetings when possible to get their direct input into your project. Not only is this a great opportunity to gather information on how well your product is performing, but it also has the potential to reframe the problem and give the team powerful insights.
10. Logistical Support
“In a good meeting, no one notices the logistical details. Everything is where and when you need it.” (51)
Making sure to bring in everything for the meeting is key to making it flow well. If too much time is wasted on small things that could have been prepared in advance, the meeting’s productivity will drop substantially, costing everyone in attendance time and money. Although minor for smaller teams, logistics wields game-changing potential for large corporations.
When choosing to run a meeting moderators must justify how their meetings tick all of the above boxes, and if they can’t, what changes need to occur in order to make a team meeting a worthwhile investment. While project managers and executives may often take the lead in meetings, it is up to the entire team to find exactly what works best for them and execute the perfect meeting every time.
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“The Ten Key Ingredient of a Successful Meeting.” The Complete Handbook of Business Meetings, by Eli Mina, AMACOM, 2000.