Effective meeting rules

Meeting effectiveness rules and benchmark

Effective meeting rules

Effective meetings are a critical part of business performance. We have conducted a study of 20 popular websites giving advice on effective meetings.

We found that the quality of the advice varied widely and that none of the sites specified rules for different types of meetings. Yet, while many of the general rules apply to all meetings, some are very specific to certain types of meeting.

As effective meetings are part of Wevalgo's expertise, we would like to give you our advice here, hoping to be more precise than what you can find elsewhere and mentioning what is said in our web benchmark.

 

 

The different types of meetings

Since we are going to share our experience of effective meeting practices according to the type of meeting, we must first define them.

We limit ourselves to team meetings, excluding one-to-one meetings, as well as training meetings. Without wishing to be exhaustive, we define the main types of meeting: 

  1. Steering: a meeting which consists of steering the activity of a team: forecasting or planning of the activity, review of objectives and indicators, definition and follow-up of actions, etc. It is generally regular (from daily to annually), but can be for a particular "event", particularly in the case of project management: kick-off, milestone achievement, acceptance, etc.
  2. Information: a meeting that consists mainly of delivering information to an audience. Communication is often one-sided, although some interactivity can be added.
  3. Information sharing: is similar to information, but more interactive, on a more specific topic and usually between operational teams (horizontal communication). Example: sharing experience on a project.
  4. Workshops: meeting to obtain a particular result, often with specific facilitation. For example: analysis of the root causes of a problem, brainstorming to identify ideas for products or services, definition of a strategic vision, etc.

 

A meeting can mix several types. However, the general rule is to have only one at a time; as the objectives and roles of the participants are different according to the type of meeting, mixing the genres can alter the effectiveness of the meeting.

 

Effective meeting rules

The Top of the meeting

Two points about this rule:

  • State the Theme, Objective and Plan (Agenda) of the meeting and communicate it in advance.
  • At the beginning of the meeting, remind participants of the TOP.

 

This is applicable to any type of meeting. However, a special case where this may not be necessary is in very repetitive or systematic meetings. Here, the TOP may never change and become obvious; it may not be necessary to communicate or remind. But be careful that it does if it changes or if you see that it no longer seems so obvious.

On the web, these rules are most often mentioned, but the agenda is finally mentioned in only 77% of the cases, and it is not always said that they must be communicated in advance. 23% of the sites analysed indicate that the TOP should be recalled at the beginning of the meeting.

 

 

The right choice of participants

There is often a temptation to invite too many people, to make sure that everyone is well informed. However, it is necessary to make a choice, with three guiding principles:

  1. Invite only those people who are strictly necessary and who will contribute to the meeting
  2. Limit the number of people to 7-8, as beyond that a meeting becomes difficult to manage so that everyone participates effectively.
  3. Limit the mix of people from different hierarchical levels, as there may be self-censorship. From lower levels, for fear of the perception of superiors, or from superiors because they do not want to communicate certain information to the lower levels.

 

These three principles are applicable to any type of meeting, except for information meetings, which may differ, especially as they need less participation or even confrontation (or constructive criticism) between the different participants. The more or the more you want a "deliverable" at the end of the meeting, the more applicable these rules are.

Some workshops, or seminars, may deviate from points 2 or 3, but then require a very specific meeting organisation with experienced facilitators and separate group sessions (which will individually respect these points) ...

Also, for workshops, some additional criteria can be considered, such as

  • The presence of an expert (internal or external)
  • The presence of a "customer" (internal or external) of the activity under review. For example, a member of the production departments in a workshop working on new product development
  • The presence of members who are representative of, or cover the whole subject matter. For example, a process review or redesign workshop should have people covering the whole process.
  • The credibility of the participants in relation to the organisation. For example, if a solution is proposed to solve a problem, the more credibility the working group has, the easier it will be to get that solution accepted.

 

On the web, there are already only 62% of sites that indicate that the choice of participants is important. And in these cases, apart from saying that the participants must be concerned with the subject of the meeting, there is little more advice. Although some have recommended a maximum of 15 people per meeting!


 

​Preparation

Preparation is crucial to the effectiveness of the meeting. In some cases, the preparation time may even exceed the time of the meeting itself, especially for "workshop" type meetings.

The preparation must be done by the facilitator, or the person in charge of the meeting, but also by the participants. Our experience shows that not only is this not a common practice for the facilitator, but it is becoming rather rare for the participants.

But what should the preparation consist of?

The basics common to all successful meetings are:
  • the documents supporting the meeting are up to date,
  • those sent in advance are read "proactively" by each participant before the meeting, i.e., each participant has noted the particular points that concern him or her or on which he or she wishes to make an intervention.

 

Other points depend strongly on the type of meeting:

  • Steering meetings: most of the time, each participant is responsible for a relevant area. He or she will therefore always need to be prepared on three points, and sometimes a fourth:
    1. Be fully up to date with your own indicators and the progress of your actions or projects
    2. Be familiar with the main points and causes of weaknesses (indicators under objectives, for example). But this is not enough to be fully effective. The ideal is to have already identified one or more solutions, so that the meeting is geared towards arbitration on the solution rather than a discussion on the problems (which can become technical, lengthy, or conflictual). This sometimes implies that prior analysis and solution identification sessions have taken place beforehand. But this is the secret of an effective steering meeting.
    3. Give advance notice to the meeting leader if there are particular items to be discussed, so that the agenda can be adapted. Note that these points should also concern your colleagues (otherwise there is no point in dealing with them in a collective meeting)
    4. As this type of meeting is often repetitive, with a standard agenda, the organiser should warn the participants to prepare for a particular point if there is one.
  • Workshops: preparation is very much dependent on the objective of the meeting, so the organiser should always specify what is expected of participants
  • Information or information sharing meetings usually only require preparation for the organisers and presenters. Most of the time, no supporting documents are sent in advance.

 

On the web, only 56% of sites mention preparation as a rule of efficiency. This is quite distressing, because if there were only one rule, this is certainly the one that should be kept. Moreover, few specify what preparation consists of (46% indicate that the preparer should inform the participants about the expected preparation) and whether it differs from one meeting to another.

 

 

The right meeting materials, often in advance

In 99% of cases, you need materials for any type of group meeting. Depending on the type of meeting, their format can be very different; it doesn't matter as long as they are adapted to the objective and the audience, of good quality, and up to date.

Typically, dashboards or progress charts for steering meetings; audio-visual aids (PowerPoint, video...) for information or information-sharing meetings (the latter can be supplemented with various aids such as wall displays, examples of finished products...). Workshops can also have a number of these elements, but often with the addition of adapted animation supports: paperboard, physical or virtual Post-It® (specific online tools), etc.

If equipment (video, audio, online tools) is needed, it is important to test it before the meeting starts.

 

Should they be communicated in advance? Generally, yes, so that participants can read and prepare in advance, but with some exceptions:

  • Day-to-day meetings, stand-up meetings, which often use visual aids hung on the wall of the meeting room or work area where the meeting takes place (e.g. production workshop).
  • This is generally not the case for information or information sharing meetings, or when confidential information is to be communicated.
  • For workshops, it depends on the materials. Those useful for preparation (context, source information, background, etc.) should be sent in advance. Facilitation materials will obviously not be sent in advance, except possibly in terms of illustrations so that the participants can better understand what will happen in the workshop.

 

On the web, only a few sites give advice on this point. 31% mention the type and quality of the documents, with varying degrees of detail, and only 15% will indicate whether (and if so, in what case) they should be sent in advance.

  

 

 

 Start and finish on time

This performance rule is applicable to all meetings, yet less than 40% of sites recommend it (38% start on time, 46% finish on time).

A tip! End meetings 5 minutes before a set time (10:55 instead of 11:00). This allows participants to go on to another meeting afterwards. With time to change rooms, or, at the time of the video conference, to take a short break.

If participants arrive late, everyone else loses time. A meeting that ends late means running the risk of losing some of the participants, or of having a later meeting start late.

 

One of the practices we have already seen is a "pledge" of €X for late participants; but this requires an appropriate environment, otherwise it can quickly turn into a conflict.

 

 

How long should a meeting last to be effective?

Only 38% of sites mention the length of the meeting. But this notion is very relative; it generally varies between 1 hour (most often) and 2 hours. But we also find 21 minutes! Several times, this time is justified by a study which shows that the attention of participants declines: around one hour, or 21 minutes depending on the study!

What nobody says is that the length of the meeting itself does not mean much.

It also depends on the level of interactivity (we pay more attention when we are active than when we passively listen to a presentation) and the breaks we add. In fact, it is more the length of the "sessions" within a meeting that counts and should be kept short. A well-run full-day seminar can be very effective, provided that the sessions (information, workshops, etc.) are varied and that regular breaks are provided.

 

 Managing time and focusing on the essentials

Whatever the length of the meeting, it should be managed with the following principles in mind:

  • Focus on the essentials. Avoid disruptions and lengthy discussions and keep the discussion focused on the objectives of the meeting. If necessary, create a "car park" of unfinished (and important to be finished) business to be dealt with at another meeting.
  • Respect the agenda and the time allowed per topic. A few reservations on the subject. Firstly, a certain amount of flexibility must be maintained, as some topics may be longer than planned and others shorter. Secondly, the priority is to focus on the essential. In situations where it is felt during the meeting that not all topics will be covered, it is better to deal with an important topic in its entirety, rather than covering the whole agenda in part. For this reason, it is better, where appropriate, to put the important topics first.

 

These principles apply to all types of meetings. However, only 38% of the sites in our web benchmark mention them. 8% give the "parking" tip.

 

 

Different roles among participants?

Who manages the meeting time? Who keeps the focus on the essentials? And broadening the subject, who facilitates meetings, especially when they are complex?

This depends on the type of meeting, its complexity, and the level of meeting facilitation skills of the manager. Let us look at the different possible roles.

The two main roles are the client, the timekeeper and the secretary.

The client is the one who "orders" the meeting, who has set its objective. Most of the time it is the most senior manager among the participants. He is responsible for the meeting.  His three main roles, especially in steering meetings, are:

  • Arbitrating / Deciding
  • Leading the meeting: challenging, questioning, confronting the participants
  • Ensuring that the focus is on the essentials (he is normally the best judge of this)

 

 

The "timekeeper" and the "secretary" are the most common roles. The timekeeper keeps the meeting on schedule and the secretary is the one who will take the minutes. It is essential to appoint them at the beginning of the meeting. The "client" can sometimes fulfil these three roles, if the meeting is not too complex and if he or she is very good at it. But it is rather recommended that he delegates these tasks so that he can pay more attention to the content and focus on the essential.

However, in complex meetings, especially workshops, it is better if the "client" no longer facilitates the meeting. It is better to appoint someone who is skilled in facilitating these workshops, using techniques which may vary: a root cause analysis will be facilitated differently from a strategic thinking workshop.

When it comes to very complex workshops or seminars, other roles may appear: audio-visual management, observers...

 

What do our benchmark websites say about that? 38% talk about the role of the timekeeper or secretary, and 23% talk about defining roles (including one that proposes 8 roles without specifying for which types of meeting).

 

 No interruptions, no phones, no open PCs and other "rules of good conduct"?

We believe it is essential that there are no impromptu interruptions during a meeting for it to be effective. No secretary or leader entering the meeting room to communicate with a participant, or even to ask him/her to leave! No phone calls either. People often say: "The boss is calling me". Our recommendation is that you must work with the "bosses" so that they understand that it is in their interest that their employees do not answer them in organised meetings.

The issue of the PC is more difficult. Nowadays, the PC is often useful in meetings: to take notes, to do a video conference, to share an electronic document...

 

It is therefore necessary to deal with this subject by means of "rules of good conduct" defined in advance and regularly reminded at the beginning of the meeting. These rules often include many of the rules defined above, but also some such as

  • Do not read emails or other documents on your PC
  • Be collaborative
  • Accepting criticism and being open
  • ...

 

38% of the sites in our benchmark recommend defining and reminding these rules. 

 

End of meeting and minutes

There are several rules for the end of the meeting and even after the meeting. At the end of a meeting, we recommend that you allow time for a conclusion. In our opinion, apart from information meetings, this conclusion has one point in common for all types of meetings: to review the actions and decisions taken, validating those responsible and the dates of execution.

Other points vary according to the meeting:

  • Steering meeting: in general, only the actions and decisions taken are needed
  • Workshops: add a summary of the meeting containing at least the progress in relation to the objective. A round table discussion is also recommended, especially when the topics are complex and it is important to understand the satisfaction or agreement of the participants with the solutions, decisions or conclusions of the meeting.

After the meeting: distribute the minutes as soon as possible (at worst the next day). Here, we recommend getting to the point, i.e. the actions and decisions taken, and the updated supporting documents (if any). Of course, for workshops, a "result" is often produced, which should be circulated with the minutes. In some cases, particularly in conflict or administrative situations, it will be necessary to add a summary of the discussions or to respect a very specific formalism.

 

If the actions and decisions taken have been reviewed and validated at the end of the meeting, there is no need to do anything after the meeting. But if this is not the case, then it will have to be done afterwards, but this can be complicated (if there is a misunderstanding of what was said in the meeting).

This is true in most cases, but sometimes it will be necessary to have the detailed minutes validated.

 

45% of our benchmark recommends sending minutes and 38% recommends a summary at the end of the meeting (10% a round table).

 

 

Other good practices for effective meetings... more or less valid

Other rules or good practices for having an effective meeting are also cited in our benchmark. Some of them seem to us to be very valid, but they are more common sense or a state of mind than a rule. For example

  • Facilitate interaction and teamwork
  • Establish a common vision
  • Create dynamism and a good mood
  • Use accurate data to make a decision

 

Other rules of efficiency seem to us to be a little more incantatory, or even...not recommended:

  • Work on the documents for 10 minutes at the beginning of the meeting: no, that's why there is a preparation. Unless there are specific points on the agenda that need to be reviewed in these documents
  • Follow up afterwards, with each participant: this may be the case in very specific meetings... or if the right rules were not followed during the meeting. Of course, the actions taken must be followed up but this becomes an operational and managerial role
  • Right time, right place: of course, but you have to be pragmatic; not everyone can have meetings in the best room, "in the green", early in the morning and on Tuesday (a day sometimes recommended by websites)

 

Conclusion

Running a meeting may seem simple at first. But, a truly effective meeting requires many elements to be in place.  Within the meeting and in preparation for the meeting. But also, elements that cannot be controlled in a meeting: the quality of the data, the objectives and indicators, the ability to analyse the causes...

 

 

Go further

Assess your meetings (or your clients meetings if you are a consultant) effectiness with our Wevalgo Effective meetings assessment.

 

See our article "The meeting is the tip of the performance management iceberg" or our complete Operational Excellence model on performance management.

 

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Monday, 21 June 2021

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