Every manager's dream is to have effective meetings. That they are short, mobilising few people and enabling to take the right decisions or actions that will sustainably improve the performance of his organisation.
So, the manager works on the agenda, insists on good meeting rules (start and finish on time, cut off your phone ...), takes a coach to better manage conflicts, individuals, speaking time ...
Yes, it is useful. But most of the levers to get effective meetings are NOT IN the meeting but AROUND (and not only before).
The meeting is just the tip of the iceberg of the performance management system.
Let's look (not exhaustively) at the effective meeting key elements: basics, focus, good decision-making, taking relevant actions. We focus here on periodic team management meetings; not general meetings, presentations, trainings, problem solving or any other 'ad-hoc' meeting.
Basics mainly include starting and finishing on time, switching off mobile phones, not reading emails, attendees present, excused or represented.
Of course, the meeting manager can set the rules for the meeting, including with the agreement of the participants so they adhere and respect them. But what are these rules worth if participants finish the previous meeting late? If a certain culture of urgency (permanent) makes that their respective leaders want to be able to call them at any time or schedule unexpected meeting at the last moment at the same time as yours?
What to do, when as in a real lived case, we invite six specific people and we are left with three of these plus seven others, either by delegation or because the subject interested them; and this in a fairly systematic way because the notion of accountability is not well anchored in this company?
The effective meeting recipe is strongly based on discussing the right topics and eliminating or at least limiting any useless (or less useful) topic.
Here too, a standard agenda or prepared sufficiently in advance with an indication of the subjects to be treated can contribute to this focus.
But are subjects chosen according to the urgency of the moment, the desire or the individual concerns of one of the participants, or according to the most objective and factual importance for the overall performance of the management team, according to its objectives? What if key objectives and indicators are not clear, too many, insufficient, or not up to date?
What if the management or accountability levels of the lower levels are not strong enough and operational issues too often go up to the management team and 'monopolize' the time of the meeting?
Making decisions is not the most difficult but making the good ones (without looking for them to be always perfect, because this is almost impossible with the complexity of the business) and that they are respected is.
Some intrinsic levers of the meeting can still be activated such as the discussion and the 'constructive challenge' between the different participants of the meeting.
But it is still necessary that there is at least one proposal of solution to be validated, if not several to be able to select the best one. What to do when the concerned participant (s) come to the meeting with their problems without having prepared a solution proposal (s).
What decision to make when problems are not analysed, and root causes identified? Apart from deciding to analyse more the problem, and thus to lose time?
For a decision to be respected, assuming it is the right one, it is also necessary that this decision is well communicated, relayed, supported by the actions of the different managers; which happens after the meeting.
As with decisions, it is not difficult to take actions in a meeting or to review them.
However, this is not so common that the progress status of the actions is well reviewed at the meeting (or prepared before the meeting) or that the actions taken are in the meeting with a responsible person present who has clearly understood the action, what is the completion date and that he is responsible for it.
The problem really happens when the list of actions gets longer, they are late, or we do not know if they have improved the situation.
To prevent this, it is necessary to take the right actions (same levers as making the right decision), that the priorities are clear or revised when necessary, that the culture of accountability is well anchored and that the organization frees up manger’s time for actions that are sometimes long and not necessarily directly operational. Not that easy!
Our experience shows that there is unfortunately no shortcut to get effective management meetings; we must work on the entire performance management system, and not only the meeting itself. And it must be done in coordination with all the management meetings in the organisation, not only a manager’s one. Achieving effective meetings is an organisation project rather than an individual manager’s project. The manager who would like to improve his own management meeting, even by including his performance system as explained above could be disappointed with the results if the surrounding ecosystem does not do the same.