As part of a recent project I interviewed a client and the age-old complaint of ‘our meetings aren’t very productive’ reared its head.

I sighed inside.  How many times have I heard this?  I could anticipate the many reasons why: ‘too much talking for talking’s sake’, ‘there’s no clear purpose,’ ‘the meeting went on forever’, we don’t make decisions,’ ‘we don’t feel comfortable challenging each other.’

We have all sat through seemingly pointless meetings that eat away at our time and appear to have no fruitful outcomes.

But the truth is many of us find it really difficult to run productive and effective meetings.

This got me thinking – what are the essential ingredients for success? Here are a few ideas to get you thinking:

One key ingredient for me is to be crystal clear about the purpose of any meeting or conversation right from the outset.

Essentially, there are four reasons for getting people together:

  • to develop a relationship
  • to share information,
  • to explore possibilities and solve problems, and
  • to make decisions and determine actions

Having clarity of purpose ensures that participants turn up in the right mind-set and understand how they need to prepare and the type of listening required.  For example, the kind of listening needed to make important decisions is very different from the listening needed to generate ideas and possibilities; judgement plays a very different role in both situations.

Having a clear purpose also guides participants to the role they need to play –whether they should be committing to actions, sharing their opinions or just listening generously to ensure everyone is on the same page.

Managing the dynamics and different personalities in the room is another tricky aspect of running a meeting.  According to recent research conducted by Google[1], teams perform best when there is an equal opportunity for all individuals to contribute.  However,  too often meetings are dominated by ‘time hoggers’ .

This backs up findings by Nancy Kline in her work Time to Think. Her methodology, advocates that everyone must have the chance to think and speak uninterrupted.  This works wonders in terms of eliciting the best thinking from the whole group. Giving everyone equal voice, thinking time and the chance to contribute can transform the effectiveness of communication in a meeting.

Nancy Kline also found that rather than listening in a meeting, people spend the majority of their time either working out what they are going to say or defending what they are saying and that a verbal interruption has the similar impact on thinking as a physical fight.  It is no surprise that without strong agreements on giving equal voice and listening the quality of the thinking goes down in teams

My third ingredient for a happy and effective meeting is simply start a meeting by asking people positive questions. This is a clever tip from neuroscience and it encourages people to share, contribute and focus.

The questions could be simple such as what has gone well for you the last week? Can you name someone who has helped you achieve things? What are you looking forward to most this week?

Too often, when we review projects and performance we discuss how we could improve things next time, without pausing for a moment to say what went well and well done.

Starting off on a positive note primes the brain to adopt a more open attitude towards the forthcoming discussion – and it gets all of the voices in the room ready to contribute at the same time.

What’s more – recognising and celebrating good work makes people feed valued – that they matter; it boosts their energy levels, reconnects them to their purpose in the company and can increase their well-being and productivity.

A final tip is to close the meeting on a positive note too. By asking people what they will take away from the meeting can help people feeling inspired, motivated and energised.

If you have any good tips for effective meetings, we would love to hear them.

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