Business Meetings: 7 Things You Must Avoid
Business meetings can be fraught. We’ve all been to meetings that start late, wander off topic, cause arguments, and don’t come to any sane conclusions. However, it doesn’t have to be that way – running a good meeting is an art, and one anyone can learn.
With that in mind, in this article we’re going to run through seven things you must avoid in order to run meetings that produce real, positive outcomes.
Let’s get cracking!
1. Unnecessary Meetings
Starting with the very first thing to consider – before you call a meeting, decide if you really need to hold one. Having a pointless meeting is not just a waste of your time, but that of everyone else attending.
The Harvard Business Review has an article, including a nice little decision tree, that can be used to help you determine if a meeting is the right choice.
Also, be sure that you do need the input of those you intend to invite to the meeting. If you really feel you need external feedback, work out what you require, and who has the knowledge you need to progress.
Don’t invite unnecessary people just to make the meeting bigger and seem more important. It’s far more efficient to invite only those who can help you move forward. It also allows other people whose contribution isn’t required to get on with their work.
2. Getting Personal
Business meetings are just that – about business. Most of those attending will appreciate a reminder to everyone at the start to stay on topic.
Remember that unless you know the beliefs, likes, and dislikes of everyone attending, it’s dangerous to wander into the unknown territory of personal stories. If you want a fruitful and positive meeting, stick to the important issues – and make sure the attendees do as well.
By making sure you don’t stray off-topic, you are in a better position to ensure nobody else does. Be firm about this, and cut personal tales off quickly by reminding speakers to focus on the meeting topics.
3. Time Wasting
Meetings that start late or run over time are the bane of the meeting goer’s existence. To avoid inflicting this misery yourself, make it clear that your meeting will begin on time, then stick to the promise. You could also make it known that anyone who’s more than five minutes late won’t be allowed in to encourage prompt attendance.
If someone hasn’t responded to let you know whether they’re attending the meeting or not, it’s better to get proactive and either check yourself or delegate someone to find out for certain.
Set an agenda you can clear in the time you’ve allocated, and stick to it. Also, partition the meeting so each point gets a reasonable amount of time assigned to it, tell everyone what this time scale is, and move on when the time is up.
If there really are unresolved issues in the time allowed, schedule a follow-up with the people who can sort them out.
4. Winging It
Preparation is everything when it comes to a business meeting – having a meeting without a pre-determined structure is inviting problems. You’ll find everyone brings their own pet topics, whether they’re relevant to what you want to discuss or not, and any good ideas may get drowned in the noise.
Work with participants ahead of time to determine discussion topics, and from those, create and distribute an agenda so that everyone knows exactly what the meeting will cover.
If you have an agenda you can distribute ahead of the meeting, you can prepare, and so can the others due to attend. You can then hold informal pre-meeting chats with individuals, and plan for their responses based on their initial feedback.
Healthy discussion is a great thing at meetings, but it’s easy for things to get out of hand. Meetings often involve people with very different personalities, and arguments can spring up. This can be the death knell for a productive meeting, so work to make sure conflict doesn’t occur.
If you take a respectful tone, others will follow suit. So even if someone is throwing every toy out of their pram, be the adult in the conversation and deal with it calmly but firmly.
If you know someone’s likely to be disruptive, try to have a word in advance, and outline the behaviour you expect. In the meeting itself, set time limits for individual contributions, so if someone does wander on to a favourite grievance, you can deal with it promptly.
Try to build consensus by using group nouns, such as ‘we’ and ‘our’, and emphasizing common challenges or victories. Take control – don’t use the meeting to place blame, and don’t tolerate personal attacks. The more impartial your tone, the less leverage you give to others to vent personal opinions.
Often you’ll find one or two people who disengage from the meeting and begin to chat among themselves. This is extremely disruptive, and needs to be dealt with.
If you have to, halt the meeting to focus on their little chat – this should get their attention. When you have it, ask for their input to the main discussion, and keep returning to them at regular intervals to make sure they don’t lose track again.
Do ask people to turn off their phones. Unless there’s a life or death situation, or their partner is about to give birth, being without a phone for an hour or so won’t be a calamity. If everyone around the table is consulting their emails the whole time, it’s a distraction too far for most meetings.
7. Not Following Up
Many meetings just tail off – and when they end, people are rarely any wiser than when they entered the room. This is a great shame, because if you’ve thought carefully through the need to have a meeting and what you want to discuss, you’ll be hoping for actionable results.
To achieve these, you need to create a set of ‘takeaway’ points – a list of actions that have been agreed during the discussions, including details of who’s responsible for making sure particular issues are resolved or outcomes achieved.
Finally, make notes during the meeting. Every point on the agenda should come to a conclusion – and you should write it down while you have the input and agreement of those attending.
After the meeting, write up a post-event report setting out these actions and their owners, and distribute it to everyone who attended. You can then use it as a checklist to make sure your plans are on schedule.
Holding an effective and productive business meeting is an important tool for running a business, but it’s very easy to make mistakes. To ensure a good meeting, you should:
- Analyze whether you really need a meeting.
- Steer clear of personal issues.
- Avoid mismanaging time.
- Prepare well in advance.
- Avert confrontation.
- Encourage participation.
- Remember to summarize the meeting.
Do you have any thoughts on what to avoid in meetings? Let us know in the comments section below!