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I believe the foundation of effective meetings and workshops are a set of guidelines that are followed every time. These guidelines will guide you through when and why meetings should be called, who should attend and what outputs should come out of the meeting. The purpose of the guidelines is to ensure that the analyst is getting maximum outcomes when they ask a group of attendees to participate.
Here are my five keys to having meetings that get results:
- Handshakes, not handoffs
- Workshops are collaborative, working sessions
- All attendees have a defined role
- Attendees come prepared to work
- Deliverables (not just action items) are outputs
Handshakes, Not Handoffs
This was a favorite quote from a CIO I worked for years ago. Too often we see one team produce a set of outputs and hand them off to the next group only to achieve a result that was not intended. The idea behind this guideline is that the people who produce outputs should include the people who will use them earlier in the process. When we have the downstream teams involved in the development of an output we:
- transfer important knowledge about what changes we’re implementing and why
- identify potential issues earlier
- expedite later phases of work because downstream teams know what the project is about
- identify business and technical risks early to make project adjustments before we start to write code or make purchases
Use this principle when thinking about who should and shouldn’t attend your meeting. Is it always possible to get downstream team members involved earlier? Not always. But if you use this principle you can begin to find ways to incorporate them into your meetings earlier.
Workshops are Collaborative, Working Sessions
My personal opinion is that meetings are different from workshops. You can read more about what how I define those differences in my post Meetings vs Workshops: Workshops are for Working. But basically I believe what most call “meetings” are, in fact, “workshops.” The organizer wants attendees to produce an output as an outcome of the meeting. That requires preparation and purpose. So this principle focuses on making “meetings where work needs to happen” (you know, workshops) productive.
- have a purpose (why are we having this meeting)
- have an agenda (what do we need to do)
- identify who is needed and why (ex. Bob, we’ll need you to make a decision on X topic)
- provide some pre-work when possible (so people have a chance to get acquainted with what we’re going to do)
- define the goals or outputs of the meeting
And you’ll remember that this principle also mentioned “collaborative.” Collaboration is not a spontaneous occurrence when people get into a (real or virtual) room together. The organizer must create an environment where that can occur. Things like:
- uninviting people with a stake in the outcomes (think, managers)
- creating psychological safety by building in equity among all attendees and reserving judgement of ideas, and
- making time for fun and socializing
are essential to create a workshop where outcomes can be achieved.
All Attendees Have a Defined Role
I’m a stickler for ensuring that everyone who comes to a meeting knows why they were invited. The purpose and agenda should be specific as to why specific participants are needed. However, sometimes an attendee is critical to the meeting. I reach out to that person to let them know why I must have them there. If she cannot attend or doesn’t have an available delegate, I will reschedule the meeting. No sense meeting if my most important attendee can’t attend, right?
To have effective meetings, the right people must attend. The organizer must spend time to decide who those people are, why they are needed, and what they are expected to do. The purpose of this principle is to invite only those who can help you achieve your meeting purpose or produce its outputs.
I’ll share a secret with you. You can become a Meeting Hero. Become known as someone who invites only the people needed for your meetings. It will make you legendary.
Bonus points for organizing meetings that regularly end on time or early.
Attendees Come Prepared to Work
This guideline is all about providing pre-work so your attendees are ready to participate. Attendees that come prepared are more likely to generate the outcomes you need. To do this, you must provide them with the materials in advance with plenty of time to prepare. Hitting attendees cold can mean meetings that “churn,” which can lead failing to meet your desired purpose.
Your best case scenario is to have materials in the hands of participants no less than 24 hours before a meeting. However, the longer the meeting, the more time is needed to prepare so factor that in to your meeting planning. If you are late getting materials out, don’t ask your participants to cram. Reschedule your meeting.
Deliverables Are Outputs of the Session
Effective meetings produce results. They have a purpose and they produce some kind of deliverable.
What do I mean by a deliverable? A meeting deliverable is:
- an approval,
- a completed task,
- a decision,
- putting the finishing touches on a work product, or
- some other output that represents a final state.
Action items and notes are not deliverables. These are outputs that fall under “meeting hygiene,” or the set of factors that define productive meetings. Producing these are not the purpose of your meeting however.
Reading a long document to an audience is not a deliverable (and don’t even get me started about what a waste of time that is). Consider what outcome you want to achieve by reading the document out loud. Is it to get changes? Is it to get approval? Those are deliverables. I would challenge you to consider if a meeting is the best format to get those results.
And here’s where your purpose will help you define the best way to achieve your deliverables. Perhaps the best use of time would be to have the reviewers read and comment on the document asynchronously (“pre-work”) and reserve meeting time to resolve outstanding questions and get final approval, only if needed.
The Final Word on Effective Meetings and Workshops
Effective meetings happen when the right attendees come prepared to finish planned deliverables. It’s as simple as that. These guidelines work together to establish a framework for what’s most valuable to make your meetings and workshops productive. Applying some but not all will result in ad hoc meeting outcomes. They must be applied consistently and together to build a functioning, collaborative environment where you achieve your meeting outcomes. Just watch what will happen to your meeting culture when the organization sees the results!