Best Practices for Meetings

(This post is the third (final) post in a three-part series on Meetings.)

If you’ve missed the previous two posts, I suggest you read them first. They address why meetings don’t work, and how to make meetings work.

In this final post, I cover some best practices for meetings. Please note not all of these practices will work for all of you all of the time. Figure out what works for you from this list, and then adapt it to your meetings.

Understand and respect others’ strengths, and compensate for their weaknesses in your team. Recognize that others’ thinking processes might differ from your own, and that’s good, in fact. For instance, someone who might be great at conceptualizing might not be as great at ideating or even prototyping, etc. This harkens back to team forming stage, before even designing a charter. Potential employees who are about to form a team can take “profile tests” such as the Basadur Profile to help them figure out their personal creative problem solving preference. Then, teams can be formed based on how members complement each others’ working styles.

Above all, have a process for your meetings and stick with it. Let that process determine the outcome. Figure out the agenda as a team, then work through it while the facilitator leads. Respect meeting start and end times.

The facilitator/s should show up early and be prepared; they should be responsible for starting the meeting on time. Also, if you’re going to be using a projector/computer for a presentation or what have you, show up early. These digital tools have a knack for not working on the day and time when it matters most.

Use meeting time to think together as a team, ideate if need be, and share information, which should result in some kind of action/decision (divergence leading to convergence). Also, meeting without undefined action steps at the end serve nobody and are a waste of time.

Always know as a team when you’re diverging and converging; that means separate the capturing of ideas from judging and critiquing the ideas. Having empathy for your team members is also a process skill. Process skills also include interpersonal skills, how the team functions well together, how to structure meetings, etc. Another example of process skills is openly sharing and bringing your whole selves to your team.

There is no point in showing up to meetings if you can’t be present. And I don’t mean just physically, but mentally as well. Warm-up is a great way to do that. I wrote about it briefly in the context of meetings in Morning Pages, and also in the preceding post.

It’s hard to be creative when you’re stressed out and have things on your mind. And, the more things you have on your mind, the less they’re getting done. You don’t want things on your mind when you’re in a divergent/exploratory/ideation mode.

As counterintuitive as it sounds, the best thing you can do when you’re stressed out is Play. It’s the perfect antidote to relieving you of stress, and relaxes you. I’ll write more about it in a later post.

Another thing that you can do is to get clear, current, and complete with things on your personal list of things to do before you get together with your team for creative problem-solving or what have you. This does not entail doing everything on your personal lists. It just means finishing the thinking required on what you want to do with what you have on your mind so you can move on and be fully present to use that creative freedom when you’re with the team.

Your team member’s time is equally valuable as yours (if not more so); be present and cognizant of that fact.

Establish protocols for communication in meetings, and also for away from meetings for those teams working on a long-term project (such as how/when to email, how much time before you expect a response, not to communicate on weekends, know when to use email, IM, text, phone call, etc.). Setting this up early helps manage everybody’s expectations appropriately.

We don’t always see things as they are; we see them from our perspective. Sometimes, it can be hard for you to see things the way your team is seeing them. Recognize and embrace that. To get a better understanding of this principle, see pictographic ambiguity.

Read Crucial Conversations for communicating with others effectively.

Always err on the side of over communication. Replace “yes, but…” with “yes, and…” especially while diverging.

If you can avoid the meetings, that would be best, but not to the point that skipping the meeting affects decision making and team/work performance. The next best option is to schedule shorter meetings if/when you can; just because the calendar software schedules meetings in increments of 30 minutes doesn’t mean you’ve to conform to it.

Schedule short weekly meetings at the same time for status updates, etc. When you have a well-defined structure, then these might work great for you. Because when you have a process in place (which is half the battle won), it’s just a matter of doing it well.

Consider having one-on-one walking meetings instead of meeting over coffee or in conference rooms. They help you sit less and move more. Steve Jobs was known for doing that.

Have standing meetings — the benefit of this is you will keep the time as short as possible while covering whatever it is you need. And because nobody likes to stand for longer than 15 minutes or so, it’s a great way to keep them short. Please note that this might not always work; some meetings do require you to sit down.

Have a “divergent day” at work every week/month where all you’re doing is escaping from the day-to-day work and stepping into the realm of what’s possible. There is no agenda. The point of having this meeting is to simply talk, think, explore. The idea is that only when your employees make the time for stepping back and reflecting will they have the space to explore and to figure out what really matters, and only in that space can they have the creative freedom to create something great. If you can devote some time every day to also make that space for yourself, even better. Unless you create that space regularly for doing that kind of thinking, you’ll always live reactively as opposed to living proactively. This kind of thinking cannot happen every day when you’re putting out the fires or working on current projects. You need that time away from doing that work to make space for yourself to ponder and to step back and explore.

Keep the use of digital tools like computers, tablets, and smartphones to a minimum. They can be a distraction not just to the person using them, but to everyone else as well.

Use analog tools like pen, paper, and whiteboards. I use and recommend stationery from Bēhance to capture ideas, action steps, reference items, and backburner items. For personal use, I recommend Doane Paper and Field Notes.

Most of the work today in organizations is done collaboratively in teams. Knowing how to work well with others by working in teams effectively is a crucial skill to master in order to make progress on and, ultimately, complete your projects.

There are various reasons why we find it difficult to make meetings work for us. In my experience, the most important reason is the absence of a uniquely-defined process. We need to look at meetings as a process and not jump directly into its content. Ultimately, to run meetings effectively, you need a process, unique process skills that work for your team, and content, to get quality results.

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