Tips for Productive Meetings: The Top 5 Must-Have Elements
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The purpose of most meetings is to make decisions. Are your meetings effective? Do you attend meetings that are a waste of time? We’ve put together a list of elements that will make your meeting efficient and productive.
There are different reasons for holding meetings. They can be as broad as a staff meeting, hosting a brainstorming session, or selling a new idea. What they all have in common is that you have a group of people coming together for some value. As the host of the meeting, it’s your responsibility to ensure the meeting provides value and is respectful of their time.
Before you setup a meeting, consider if you can accomplish your objective via email or chat. Don’t waste peoples valuable time bringing them together in a meeting if there’s an effective alternative. Once you decide to setup a meeting, here are the important elements of effective meetings:
1. State the Objective
Every meeting should have a purpose so meeting attendees understand why they need to attend your meeting. Take a moment to document your objective. What are the outcomes you expect to achieve with this meeting? Be clear so attendees know what to expect. Use a descriptive title when you send your meeting invitation and include relevant background information if the topic is unfamiliar to the attendees.
By including your objectives with the meeting details, your attendees have the information to decide if they should attend the meeting or if there are other team members that may be more appropriate to attend.
Where the objective defines the reason to have the meeting, the agenda defines what will happen during the meeting. Preparing and sending the agenda in advance of your meeting, gives attendees an understanding of what will be discussed so they can be prepared.
2. Include an Agenda
Agendas can include the questions to be answered or the decisions to be made. If certain people will be accountable for agenda items, add their names to the agenda to identify who is required for the meeting. An agenda gives the attendees an opportunity to connect with you about adding or modifying the agenda before the meeting.
Time is money. When people attend meetings, it costs money. Having people attend meetings also has an opportunity cost of what they could be doing with their time instead of being in the meeting. Choose your attendees carefully.
3. Identify the Right Attendees
Choosing who to invite to the meeting requires understanding:
- Who is required, such as decision makers or subject matter experts, that are necessary to address specific agenda items.
- Who will run the meeting, such as a facilitator, scribe or other role that is needed to ensure that the meeting’s objectives are met, and
- Who is optional, such delegates or other attendees that may be needed. Be clear in the invitation why the optional participants have been invited.
4. Manage Your TimeTo make a meeting productive, it’s important to keep the discussion on track and work through the agenda you set out. If the group has a tendency for side topic discussions, there are a few techniques that can be useful:
- Use a timer to time-box the agenda items. Recruit a helper to keep the time and provide warnings when time is about to expire to help manage the discussion.
- Use a parking lot list if items are raised that distract from the agenda. That parking lot list may be used for action items coming out of the meeting.
- Before the meeting ends, ensure attendees are aligned on decisions made and next steps.
Starting and ending a meeting on time demonstrates organization and shows respect for people’s time. If you end a meeting 5 minutes early, it can allow people to take a break or move on to their next meeting so they can show up on time.
5. Share Meeting DocumentationA meeting may last an hour, but its outcomes may last much longer. Documentation is a key output of meetings. Summarize and share the important information after the meeting, such as decisions and action items (along with their owners and due dates), so those outcomes are on record. This documentation can be as formal as an email or as informal as a chat message. This is especially useful for groups where thoughts and ideas are fluidly changing, which can be difficult to manage.
Technology for Effective MeetingsThere’s no doubt, use of technology for meetings has increased in recent years. Make sure to include the tools you will use in your meeting planning. Consider these categories of tools for your virtual meetings:
- Meeting tools for remote or hybrid meetings, such as video conference technology, chat or even a telephone!
- Cloud word processor or content management tools to collaborate on shared documents.
- Diagramming tools, to share and update visuals.
- Online spreadsheet tools, to make review of structured data easy and collaborative.
- Virtual whiteboards, to create and collaborate on project documentation.
Collaboration TechniquesThe Business Analysis Body of Knowledge (BABOK®) Guide defines several techniques used to collaborate with stakeholders. The five essential meeting elements we’ve discussed in this post apply to these collaborative sessions too. Learn more about these techniques in Chapter 10 of the BABOK® Guide:
- Brainstorming (10.5)
- Collaborative Games (10.10)
- Focus Groups (10.21)
- Interviews (10.25)
- Reviews (10.37)
- Workshops (10.50)
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About The Authors:
Susan Moore, Community Engagement Manager, IIBA
Scott Bennett, Manager, Business Analysis, IIBA
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