" So, how was your team meeting today?”
“Exhausting. Paul told us about his life for an hour. And he didn't tell us anything about the business unit's takeover rumors. Next time, for sure, I’ll connect on the video-call. I’ll be able to go through my emails at least! »
It is with this dialogue that Louis Vareille, a meeting expert, begins his LinkedIn article. How does one become a meeting expert? When we asked him, Louis told us he became passionate about meetings during over his 35 years career and decided to make it his job about 5 years ago when he created a consulting service specifically on this topic.
He explains: “I have a passion for meetings. The good ones, of course. I see each one as a moment where everyone stops to collectively plan the upcoming period and how to move forward.” Indeed, meetings are, when well conducted, essential. Meetings are where you build and maintain relationships, transform ideas into collective successes, define objectives, move forward, solve problems... Meetings exist for a reason.
However, the number of people suffering from “meetingitis” has been steadily growing. Organizing too many inefficient meetings has become the norm in many companies. According to an OpinionWay study, in France, an employee spends 4 years of their life in meetings and a manager almost 10 years. Therefore, how do you avoid time-consuming meetings and lead and attend more productive ones?
First of all, what are meetings really for?
Simply put, “meetings” are a moment to meet, unite. By definition, a meeting is a collaborative discussion space that has the specificity of bringing together several people around a subject to:
- define an organization
- decide what actions to take
- solve a problem
- design and make progress on projects
- finding new ideas, stimulating innovation
Meeting together makes it possible to accelerate projects (together we go faster and further), facilitate decision-making, strengthen the leadership of facilitators and engagement of participants.
To better understand meetings, here are the 4 main types, which, if well prepared and facilitated, will always be essential to any company:
1. The informational meeting
This is the most basic meeting, with the objective of announcing news, good or bad: a takeover, a new strategy, the appointment of a new manager, a new major deal signed, the arrival of new employees in the team, a team reorganization, etc.
In these meetings, since information flows from senior leadership down through the business, participants have a passive posture. The facilitator must ensure that their speech is well structured and to keep the meeting short and sweet, no more than 30 minutes. These meetings are essential to maintain a link with employees, it is also a mark of respect. You take the time, and you are right to do so, because some information must be announced orally and not by email.
2. The meeting to solve a problem and make a decision
When facing a persistent problem, a team should not look away and the best decision is to regroup to discuss. Looking away and letting issues pile up is not a solution.
First, the meeting facilitator must clearly identify what is not working and why.
Then, he can invite everyone affected by the issue to attend the meeting. Knowing that only one in four meetings results in a decision, the main objective of the moderator is to lead the discussion for a decision to be made before the end of the meeting.
To achieve this, one can list possible solutions and once one is chosen, list the actions items needed to reach that solution.
3. The meeting to make progress on a project
The project update meeting can be a recurring meeting (weekly to monthly). This is an opportunity to take a step back from the work in progress, the team's mood and any roadblocks encountered.
For each new project, there are usually several attached meetings:
the kick-off meeting
the update meeting, to make sure that progress is made on planned actions
the work session, to discuss a specific topic, make a decision, etc
the closing meeting
4. The meeting to generate new ideas
Brainstorm meetings aim to make several brains work together on the same topic - the creation of a new product, coming up with a new motto, etc. The more brains at work usually equal better ideas. For a brainstorm to work, it is important to frame it and limit its duration, otherwise people end up going in circles. The goal is to generate new ideas over a short period of time.
The advantage of these meetings? They unite teams and are beneficial to companies as they are a source of solutions for identified issues or of innovative ideas.
The ultimate guide to great meeting, for facilitators and participants
Louis Vareille says that “managing is choreographing meetings”. As you will have understood, choreographing cannot be improvised. It's like being a conductor, getting ready, choosing the topics and the participants who have to be around the table, distributing the floor, and knowing how to synthesize. In short, it is to prepare oneself and prepare others.
Do I actually need to set up a meeting?
Before planning a meeting, the first question to ask yourself is “Is a meeting really needed?”
If the answer is no, maybe an email is enough. Sometimes, to do a quick follow-up or simply share information, writing can be the most effective solution. Always try to avoid having a meeting if you can…
If the answer is positive, the meeting must then be prepared to avoid wasting time, frustrating participants or becoming a source of disengagement. Considering that 71% of senior executives believe that meetings are unproductive and ineffective, we all still have room for improvement.
How to prepare a meeting effectively?
First choose a date and time for the meeting and then clearly define the objective of the meeting: what do you hope to achieve? What are your expectations ? Would you like to talk about a difficulty encountered? Make a plan? Brainstorming for the next product you launch? To help you, do like Mark Zuckerberg and ask yourself this question: “Are we making a decision or discussing a topic?” A clear intention implies a clear response.
Having a goal forces you to stay focused on the main subject and to define topics to be discussed as well as define the participants list.
Do not necessarily invite the whole team, take the time to decide who it is relevant to invite for participants to remain engaged and motivated during the meeting. There is nothing worse than being forced to attend an irrelevant meeting.
At the end of the meeting, each person should feel that they made good use of their time. According to the study “French executives and meetings”, 91% of respondents think that a meeting should have a maximum of 6 participants.
Then write down the agenda. Do not hesitate to specify the topics that will not be discussed to avoid deviating from the main subject.
Before your meeting, be sure to share the agenda and share all the necessary documents, whether it is a presentation, a brief, a benchmark, visuals or texts. Send them far enough in advance so that each person can have time to go through them. It is a way of involving the participants, of inviting them to prepare themselves for the meeting. Moreover, ideally, before each meeting, each participant should ask themselves what is expected of them:
- “What role should I play in this meeting?”
- “What should I do to be correctly prepared?”
Refine the format of your meetings
Here are some tips to try to improve your meetings:
- Think ROTI (“Return On Time Invested”): ask yourself (and ask the group): “What will enable us to say that we made good use of our time?”. This again underscores the purpose of the meeting.
- Choose the right duration and stick to it. According to a study by Wisembly and Ifop, our attention span has a time limit of 52 minutes. This is also why Larry Page established the rule of meetings 25/50: 25 minutes for short meetings, 50 for longer ones. However, the average time for meetings in France varies between 54 minutes and 1 hour 26 minutes!
- Begin with a moment of silence. This is one of Jeff Bezos’ principles. Making the assumption that not everyone has read the documents sent in preparation for the meeting, this will leave the necessary time for participants to read, in silence, everything that needs to be read. This has two advantages: 1) you are sure that everyone knows what we are talking about 2) it forces the facilitator to carefully choose and prepare the meeting support.
- As soon as the conversation veers off-topic, tell the team that you are taking note of the raised topic but that you will come back to it later. This is the “parking lot” method. We park interesting topics that are not crucial to the meeting to stay focused and reach our objective in the given time.
- Use the right support. Jeff Bezos is a fan of the “No powerpoint” policy. He thinks that the famous tool not only wastes time but also prevents people from thinking properly. He prefers to replace a PPT with a briefing document. There are several reasons for this: a PPT must always be accompanied by an oral presentation which complements the bullet points. Result: the participants need the presenter to understand the full content and therefore cannot use the doc to properly prepare for the meeting. He adds these presentations always follow the same templates giving them a taste of “déjà vu”. Finally, during the meeting, with a powerpoint, you never know how long the oral presentation will last. A written document can therefore increase efficiency.
Finally, if you are not hosting the meeting but attending, here are a few things to keep in mind:
- Ask the meeting organizer what they expect from you, to understand what your role will be and what you need to prepare
- Avoid arriving late, using your phone, or cutting off the floor, these three behaviors are among the attitudes that irritate the other participants the most.
As you will have understood, the participants have just as much a role to play as the facilitator.
In conclusion, what is the perfect meeting? It is the result of a meticulous alchemy between preparation from the facilitator and participants. It must not exceed the number of 6 participants, takes place on a Tuesday, between 10 and 12am and lasts between 25 and 50 minutes. You now have all the cards in hand to make your meetings as efficient and productive as possible. It's up to you to be the best “choreographer”!