4 Ways to Get Your Organisation Focused on Better Meetings

1. Show the cost 

It’s worth exposing the cost of meeting so people understand the value of improving them. Our rule of thumb is that around 25-40% of your organizational payroll is likely to be spent on the hours people spend in meetings. However, the cost of meetings does vary widely across organisations. We’ve built a meeting cost calculator to help you figure our roughly how much your company is currently spending on meetings. And you can track this even more scientifically with our meeting diagnostic.  

We think meetings are the biggest hidden spend category in every organization. And only a few organisations are actively managing the effectiveness of meeting spend. Highlighting the costs of meeting to your organization might focus minds. A few effective meeting chairs we know use the phrase “There are a lot of salaries round this table” to concentrate minds on the need to make meetings more productive. Add these salaries up and the huge investment you’re already making in meetings becomes clear. 

2. Expose bad practice – with tact! 

We measure meeting effectiveness with automated anonymous pulse surveys built on our evidence-based question set. But it’s definitely possible to create simply feedback surveys to gauge how a handful of your meetings are going. Be careful to ensure that people are full and frank in their feedback by really protecting anonymity.  

Whatever you do, don’t guess how good meetings are by only asking chairs themselves. We’ve found that meeting chairs systematically rate their meetings more positively than attendees. This is partly for the same reason that around 4 in 5 motorists in the US think they are above average drivers. A bit of over-optimism when it comes to one’s own abilities seems normal – and we call this the fundamental attribution bias. But it’s also because people who set up and lead meetings naturally see them as having at least some relevant to their work objectives.  

However many surveys our software runs, we still also love stories. Who could forget that 40 person, 3 hour meeting in which only 4 people actually spoke? Or that time that you actually had exactly the same meeting 3 times with 3 different people? Collect a few annecdotes to highlight the scale of the challenge and how often meetings are currently undermining company culture, wellbeing and productivity.  

3. Start small – and show what is possible 

Few would disagree that meetings are costly and could be better. But we find that our partners often aren’t confident that they can actually improve things? Change is always daunting but starting small can help. When we work with top teams on consulting projects, we often narrow in on just one regular, high value meeting and start to drive improvements iteratively to get transformational results. Once leaders have felt that meetings can be better, they are much more likely to spread what they’ve seen working. If you lead a team, you can go a step further and build your own meeting sub-culture that starts spreading effective meeting practices by stealth.  

4. Scale good practice and create a platform for change 

We think our Meeting Lab software and support as the gold standard in scaling effective meeting disciplines across your organization to strengthen culture and productivity. But you can do quite a bit without us if your teams can invest a bit of time and passion. One thing we recommend to all our partners (and often design with them) is a meeting playbook that sets out how you want to approach meetings as an organization. Simply creating some ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’ that you then try to spread and stick by will help everyone to realise that meetings are something that all staff need to focus on to make sure work is productive and rewarding.  

4 Tips to Ensure Your Meetings Have Clear Decisions and Actions

Author: Dina Pataki & Tom Gash

Have you ever had a meeting in which people exchange excellent ideas, but no one takes any action afterwards?  When groups meet a crucial aspect of effective collaboration often gets forgotten: clearly defining key action points and decisions. For example, let’s say my team discusses the need for having more social activities to boost team morale. Everyone starts passionately sharing their ideas, leading to an engaging conversation. Once all 7 of us has spoken, taking up 4-5 minutes each, the 30-minute team catch-up is over, and people run off to their next meeting. Did we arrive at a clear decision on who is going to organise what and by when? Everyone has a different idea about the conclusions and next steps – meaning nothing gets done, and the team needs to wait till the next meeting to nail down the team-building activity.  

If you want to drive your team and organisation further – you need to make sure that everyone knows the decisions made and actions to take by the end of a meeting. 

Follow these 4 easy steps to make sure that meetings deliver results: 

1. Prepare in Advance 

Don’t underestimate the importance of preparing for a meeting. Creating a calendar invite takes just a few clicks: select a time and date, invite some people, type in a quick title and hit send. Although our ability to assemble a group of people so quickly and easily is handy, it often creates a by-product of poorly thought-through meetings. Imagine a scenario where you had to facilitate a workshop for an external client. Would you ever just create a quick calendar invite and show up to the workshop unprepared with no clear goals and activities? Every meeting (external, internal, online or in person) should have a clear end goal in mind, so nobody’s time gets wasted. A good first step is to decide what you are hoping to achieve by the end of your meeting and clearly articulate a purpose statement. Additionally, list all the decisions that need to be made, either in the calendar invite or in separate document that you share with your attendees prior to the meeting.  A clearly articulated decision-list will help you lead a more focused meeting where your attendees know where the discussion is heading and what the end goal is. 

2. Decide How to Decide

Once everybody knows what decisions will need to be made by the end of a meeting, the next step is to establish a clear decision-making process. There are several ways decisions can be made, and it is not always clear how a group will reach one. What happens if half of the team members think the group should do X whilst the other half wants to do Y? Do they need to convince each other? Does the leader make the call? A meeting can feel endless and confusing if no one really knows how they are supposed to reach a decision. This is why it is important that the meeting leader sets a clear and relevant decision-making process. 
Here are some of the ways a group can reach a decision:

  • Consensus: A decision is reached only if everyone agrees with it. 
  • Consent: Not everyone needs to agree with the decision, but everyone should consent to it.  
  • Compromise: A decision should be broadly supported; some might not support the reached decision, whilst others will. 
  • Counting votes: The decision is reached by majority; everyone expresses their preferred option and the one with the most votes will be the chosen option.  
  • Consultation: Everyone can contribute to the decision, but one person will make the final call (usually the meeting leader).  

As a leader, make sure you articulate how you want to reach a decision and how each participant will need to contribute. If you are the decision-maker but you will base your choice on the team’s input, make this very clear from the start. Clarifying expectations will eliminate confusion, leading to more effective decision-making. 

3. Clarify and Summarise

It’s crucial that you spend the last five minutes of your meeting recapping the decisions that were made during the meeting and the actions that need to be taken. As many meetings overrun, the summary discussion tends to fall off the agenda. People wrongly assume that everyone will walk away with exactly the same conclusions just because they attended the same meeting. Research has shown that the way one decodes information can be influenced by a variety of factors. For example, showing how confirmation bias works,  a famous experiment revealed that individuals can read the same text, yet have opposing conclusions, depending on their existing beliefs. Without a clear decision summary, people can have different conclusions of the same meeting, especially if we consider the addition of likely confusing conditions, such as multiple people talking at the same time, connectivity issues in case of virtual meetings and power dynamics. if you want to make sure that attendees have a clear idea on what the group agreed on and what is expected of them, spend the last 5 minutes recapping the decisions made and actions to be taken.   

Extra tip: if you did not reach a decision, even after clearly establishing that as a goal, don’t be afraid to state so. The best way to ensure that you can reach your meeting goals the next time you assemble is to reflect on why it wasn’t achieved. Ask the group: “What could we have done differently to reach a decision?”. The reasons could be plenty, such as:  

  • Key decision-makers were missing 
  • Attendees did not have enough information 
  • Attendees did not have the right information  
  • Lack of time  
  • Lack of clear decision-making process 

By collectively clarifying the issue, the group can reveal what needs to be in place during the next meeting, so you can make the decisions you need to.  

4. Follow UP to not be let DOWN

To make sure no one forgets the decisions made and the actions to be taken, you often need to go the extra mile and follow up with a clear email. List the main discussion points, the decisions made and the actions that need to be carried out. Every action item should have one owner who is responsible for delivery and an agreed deadline. Here is a template that you can use for your next follow-up email: 

Hi Team. Here are the main talking points of our [meeting title] meeting held on [date]: 

  1. Talking point A
  1. Talking point B
  1. Talking point C

These are the decisions made: 

  1. Decision A 
  1. Decision B 
  1. Decision C 

These are the action items to be completed: 

  1. [Name] will do [task] by [date]
  1. [Name] will do [task] by [date]

Having a tangible summary in writing will ensure that everyone has something to look back at in case they got confused about the decisions or forgot what they needed to do. Essentially, the follow-up email would serve as a reference point for meeting participants and for yourself as a leader. It also give people a chance to speak up if they don’t have the same understanding of decisions made and actions people will take. In case of recurring meetings, the group should revisit the action items that were due the next time it assembles, to make sure that everyone is delivering on their promises and nothing is falling through the cracks.  

In summary, here are the key learning points for leading a meeting that creates clear decisions:  

  1. Prepare for your meeting by thinking through what you want to achieve and which decisions need to be made by the end of your meeting. Select your meeting participants accordingly and notify them about the clear meeting goal(s) in advance. 
  2. Create a clear process around how you want to make the decisions and make sure everybody is on board with that. 
  3. Spend the last five minutes of the meeting summarising the key decisions made and the actions that need to be taken with a clear due date.  
  4. Send a follow-up email about the actions and decisions so everybody has a tangible reference point and plan.  

How to Design Meetings with a Clear Purpose

By Aidah Ssebandake & Dina Pataki 

Have you ever attended a meeting and thought “why am I here?” or by the end of a meeting thought “we have discussed everything but achieved nothing”? If you have, , chances are people attending meetings you lead have too! Sending the meeting request is easy but designing a meeting with a clear purpose can be a bit tricker.  

We think a clear meeting purpose – and goal – is the starting point for a great meeting. And we have three tips to set you up for success.  

Tip 1: Don’t assume you need a meeting  

Before you even open your outlook calendar or scheduling assistant, you need to decide whether calling a meeting is necessary. Make a conscious effort to think about what your goal is. If it is simply to share information and keep people in the loop, you probably don’t need real-time communication. Instead, you could deliver your message via an email or through slack. You can even record a short video or voice message if you want people to pay attention. In our view, meetings are best reserved for activities that require real-time collaboration. Figure 1 shows some clear steps to follow when thinking about whether you really need a meeting. Going through this process will help you not only to make the right call on the necessity of the meeting but to clarify its purpose as well.   

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Tip 2: Don’t just define a purpose – define the desired outcome 

Now that you have decided that a meeting is the most effective way to discuss the issue at hand, it’s time to get clear on what exactly you wish to achieve by the end of this meeting. Let’s call this goal the desired outcome of the meeting. There is a subtle but important difference between how one answers the question “What is the purpose of this meeting?” and “What is the desired outcome of this meeting”?  

The distinction is best described through an example. What difference do you see between the two answers below?  

Example 1 Question: What is the purpose of this meeting?  

Answer:  To discuss the budget 

Example 2 Question: What is the desired outcome of this meeting?  

Answer: To reach a finalised and approved budget by the end of the meeting 

The answer in Example 1 might sound straight forward but it is relatively easy to “have a discussion about the budget” yet not make any progress. The goal is not specific enough, making it difficult to evaluate whether it was actually achieved by the end of the meeting. In contrast, the second answer (prompted by the question on the desired outcome) creates a more tangible goal and a clear meeting focus. For your next meetings, include a statement in the calendar invite (or the first 5 minutes of the meeting) that starts with: “The desired outcome of this meeting is to …” 

With the clearly formulated purpose statement in mind, you can construct your meeting agenda more easily. One practical way to help guide attendees through the meeting is to list agenda items as questions. Sticking to our budget example, you could include questions like:

 “Which changes, if any, should we make to the budget?” 

“What cuts can we make to get the budget under £50k?”  

Questions help attendees activate their problem-solving thinking, making them better equipped to prepare for the discussion and join the meeting with potential solutions. Make sure you place the desired outcome at the top of your meeting agenda and in the calendar invite, in the case of virtual meetings, so attendees can adequately prepare for the meeting.  

Tip 3 – Get active agreement with your meeting purpose 

You now have a clear goal-focused agenda that you shared amongst attendees before the meeting. Great. But this is no guarantee that everyone equally understands the meeting purpose when the meeting starts. Some might not have read the agenda, some might want to discuss other points and some are still finishing up an email from before.  

This is why it is crucial to kick-off the meeting by restating the desired outcome and the planned agenda. Make sure everyone is on board with the plan –  ask for visual or verbal confirmation, such as a nod, “yes” or thumbs up. You may want to ask people if they think the goal is realistic and achievable in the time – getting them to buy into the meeting objectives. You might also get people to say if there are any other things they have a burning desire to discuss or get done in the meeting. If they do, you are better off allowing them to mention it and then either building it into the agenda or explicitly parking it until another time.  

Spending five minutes on clarifying the desired meeting outcome(s) and agenda will ensure that everyone is on the same page. Keep the agenda clearly visible either as a handout or, for virtual meetings, in the chat function or a shared document. Not only will the purpose of the meeting be clear from the start, but the agenda will also act as a point of reference to ensure that the meeting achieves its goals.  

With our top three tips covered above, you are set to lead your next meeting with a clear purpose and direction. Just remember to: 

  1. Really consider whether there needs to be a meeting at all. Can you solve the problem by shooting a quick email? 

  1. Formulate the meeting purpose as “the desired outcome” and create an action orientated agenda with items formulated as questions. Share this with attendees prior to the meeting. 

  1. Start the meeting by revisiting and getting buy in to the desired meeting outcome and agenda.