Meeting etiquette

Meetings meetings meetings

When my six year old son was asked at school what his parents did, his answer was “…. and mummy goes to meetings”. Yes, at times it seems that is all we do; meetings about what we are going to do, meetings about why we haven’t done it yet, etc.

Although it sounds so simple, in some companies it is still very normal for meetings to run out by an hour or more… this is not only a nuisance, but also rude and inconsiderate. It appears that the meeting organiser does not respect the fact that the attendees may have more on their plate than just this particular meeting.

In a way, lock down with its zoom meetings was great, for a change meetings stuck to their allocated time slot. And if you were not really required, you could just dial in and then go on folding the laundry or clean the kitchen without anybody noticing.

Some simple tips for organiser and attendees can help make meetings more productive.

For the organiser and chair of the meeting:

  • State the objective of the meeting clearly; is the meeting for information, does a decision need to be made, what do you need out of it..
  • Create an agenda, containing an introduction, key topics, and a summary as a minimum. For meetings that go for longer than two hours, add comfort breaks!
  • Book an appropriate time slot and duration for the meeting.
  • Book a room that is big enough and has the (multimedia) facilities you will need.
  • Then invite the right people to the meeting so you can achieve your objective.
  • If the invitees don’t know each other, add a short round-the-table introduction section at the start of the agenda.
  • Consider splitting long meetings, like business reviews or strategy sessions, over two days. By putting in “sinking time”, time to let our brains ponder and even sleep on a topic, you will get more constructive feedback.
  • Appoint somebody to take notes and capture actions at the start of the meeting.

At the meeting:

  • Arrive on time but do allow for cultural differences!
    • Most companies in Australia generally provide a 5 minutes grace at the start of a meeting to give attendees time to get from their previous meeting to the next one.
    • When I worked in the USA, meetings started on time and most attendees would be there 5 minutes early!
    • And we are all familiar with countries where the starting time is just a guide…..
  • Ensure there are some clear meeting fundamentals agreed upon (e.g taking phone calls, posing questions during or after presentations, etc).
  • The chair is to keep the meeting on track and stop it from going off topic. It helps to have a “parking lot” for discussions that may be interesting but need to be taken off-line and followed up later. When attendees see that their concern is captured they are more likely to move on!
  • One person to speak at any one time.
  • And finally, make sure that all people who have been invited to the meeting do get a chance to speak and share their views and opinions. You invited them to have input, ensure they provide it!

After the meeting:

  • A resulting wrap up in concise minutes and / or an action list should be distributed within 2-3 business days after the meeting. This wrap-up should as a minimum contain:
    • The date of the meeting and list of attendees.
    • The topic and objective of the meeting.
    • In bullets the key points that were discussed and tabled.
    • An action table which details the action, the responsible person, and the due date for this action. This should include any Parking Lot items.

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