Is the return on investment of your time spent in meetings as a business owner high or low? Here, behavioural analyst Ally Yates provides four tips to make small team meetings more productive.
As a small business owner, how much of your life is spent in meetings? How often do you arrive late or leave early? Could you be doing anything else with your time?
Meetings have become the scourge of the working day, taking up too much time and often failing to achieve anything. Your body may be in the room but your brain is frequently elsewhere, distracted by interruptions, mobile phones, thinking of your next holiday or whether you remembered to turn the heating off before you left for work.
You kid yourself that you’re paying attention, even though you know the brain is incapable of multi-tasking. It is little wonder most people switch off, and little wonder small team meetings often cover the same topics time and again.
Typically, small team meetings also fail to conclude and deliver on agenda items, and over time colleagues absent themselves because they don’t perceive any value. All in all, meetings get a bad rap.
We’re on a meetings merry-go-round, becoming increasingly detached from our surroundings with each rotation, with an overwhelming desire to get off in the search of something more fulfilling.
Help is at hand, with the opportunity to revolutionise the way we do small team meetings in four ways.
(1) Manage participation
Ensure everyone who attends meetings has the opportunity to have their say. After all, why are they there if they’ve nothing to contribute? Use the behaviour known as “bringing in” to invite contributions from those who have hitherto been silent.
Equally as important is to manage those who take the lion’s share of airtime – the chatterboxes, the self-important or the plain inarticulate. Skilful use of “shutting out”, taking the airtime from the speaker, allows you to constructively steer the conversation elsewhere.
(2) Ensure clarity
Too much time in meetings is spent giving information or pushing ideas and agendas. Not enough time is spent on the more skilful behaviour of asking questions.
Make that change by using the skill of “testing understanding”, to check out assumptions and confirm that everyone in a team is on the same page.
Summarising – an accurate brief account of everything that’s been covered in a meeting – is also incredibly helpful, ensuring that everyone has a shared understanding. Summarising also effectively requires accurate listening skills.
This can be a challenge if you’re focussed on your own views. Concentrating on what others have to say and letting them know how well you have understood them pays dividends. It strengthens relationships and gives much needed clarity.
(3) Provide structure
Well-managed meetings are like a well-planned journey. Everyone knows the destination and the stopping points along the way.
A key behaviour here is “proposing procedure” – suggesting how the group could work, what you will cover, who will do what and in what order. Summarising helps here too, by creating a springboard from one topic to another.
(4) Balance task and process
It’s difficult to run the show and contribute to the content of a meeting, so don’t. Instead, be clear about where you have a content contribution that will make a difference to meetings.
Otherwise, make your presence felt by skilfully facilitating the discussion for others. Lead with questions using behaviours such as seeking information and seeking proposals. Listen attentively and set yourself apart by expertly summarising the discussion.
Your effectiveness in meetings is heavily influenced by the behaviours you use. because collaboration is an ever-increasing characteristic of how we do business, extending your behavioural repertoire so that you can work more effectively with others is the name of the game.
Those mentioned here – Bringing In, Shutting Out, Testing Understanding, Proposing Procedure, Seeking Information, Seeking Proposals and Summarising – are just seven from a group of seventeen behaviours that extensive research and practical experience have shown to contribute to effective meetings. Mastery of the same behaviours also differentiate skilled performers from the average in a range of team or group settings. And
Like any skill, developing behavioural dexterity requires practice. There is a local saying in Papua New Guinea: “Knowledge is only rumour until it’s in the muscle”.
Experimenting with these behaviours will give small business owners a distinctive presence, help you to engage others, and models a new way to do business, yielding a much better return during meetings.
Making a change to how you operate can feel uncomfortable in the short-term, but it’s just the brain’s way of incorporating new information. Stick with it and you will reap the rewards.
Ally Yates is a consultant and expert in behaviour analysis. She is the author of new book, Utter Confidence: How what you say and do influences your effectiveness in business.
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