Business development 9 November 2016

Five ways small firms can make meetings more productive

Interacting with our colleagues and customers in meetings is here to stay.

Whether face-to-face, online or a combination of the two, meetings are the lifeblood of business. Paul Lewis-Borman, founder and CEO at tech startup, Meetzoo, provides his five tips to make meetings more productive.

Interacting with our colleagues and customers in a formal meeting is not going away.

In fact, we are having more meetings than ever, and many of them virtually. The success of tools like Skype, WebEx and GoToMeeting demonstrate the prominence of meetings in today’s business culture.

While it is true apps like Slack have transformed the way teams interact, there is currently no equivalent for the meeting lifecycle itself.

The gamut of tools for hosting meetings provides little or nothing by way of meeting lifecycle management. They make it easier for us to have meetings, so we’re having more of them, but they’re not making them better, and that’s a big problem.

So, what can we do to improve the quality of our meetings? Here are five recommendations:

(1) Have a clear and inclusive agenda

A good meeting starts with a good agenda. This ensures everyone is clear on what you want to discuss what the meeting objectives are. An inclusive agenda means canvasing input from all attendees as to what you will discuss and what the objectives should be. This can also help determine if the right (or wrong) people are invited, because attendee objectives should be aligned.

(2) Understand who you’re meeting

This might sound obvious, but understanding who you are meeting, what their roles and responsibilities are, what their history is etc. will improve the outcome of the meeting. It will help you to better understand what their objectives are, and even if they are the right people to be meeting with in the first place. LinkedIn has helped massively here, as just about every professional person has a public profile on LinkedIn and some judicious searching can produce a short resume on just about anybody.

(3) Encourage note taking and sharing

There are two elements to this. The first is “active note taking”, which means nominating an individual to draw out key points from the discussion as it progresses and highlight these on a whiteboard, flipchart or electronic equivalent. This focuses people’s minds and provides a common reference point to support the discussion.

The second element, which is done far less often, is note sharing. Don’t rely on one person to minute the meeting as you’ll miss valuable insights from others. Encourage everyone to take and share their notes with the organizer or a nominated individual. This also provides an early opportunity to reconcile conflicting interpretations of what happened in the meeting.

(4) Implement a feedback and rating mechanism for your meetings

Choose some key metrics, such as ‘Did the meeting start and end on time?’ ‘Were the right people invited?’, ‘Were your objectives achieved?’, ‘Was everybody given an opportunity to contribute?’ Don’t be afraid to share feedback.

(5) Follow up on every meeting

Distribute clear minutes which contain the agenda covered, the notes taken and the actions agreed. Keep meeting minutes centralised on a shared system that everybody can access. This ensures there is also only one version of the “truth” that everyone can easily refer to.

All of these recommendations come down to one thing, following a good process. A consistent meeting process will ensure everyone knows what to expect from the meeting and how they can best contribute. As with any new process however, it is important to follow it consistently until it becomes a habit.

They say it takes 21 days to form a new habit. Unfortunately, we have years of bad meeting behaviour and conventions to undo. Good meetings don’t come from technology alone. They require action and a commitment to change.

Apps like Meetzoo can help, by offering tools that encourage good meeting practices and better collaboration. It is our mission to make meetings better by encouraging best practice through technology.

Paul Lewis-Borman is founder and CEO at Meetzoo, a tech startup aiming to improve business meeting productivity. Meetzoo is crowdfunding on Crowdcube.

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