Rachel Letby, Director of Crail Consulting, discusses how to get the most out of meetings and make them productive and useful

“During my thirty years as a change management specialist there has been one issue that comes up time and time again; something which frustrates staff, wastes time and ultimately could be done much, much better. Those of you who attend meetings and wonder why on earth you’re there can relate to what I’m saying. Ineffective meetings drain energy, staff morale and leave people feeling unmotivated and in some cases, undervalued.

“My experience working with a range of different sized companies in a number of sectors has shown me that this is a universal issue. In fact, recent research backs this up, showing that ineffective meetings actually cost the economy £582 million per week! It is so easy to fall into the trap of accepting a meeting invitation without first thinking about the purpose of the meeting, your role in the meeting, or if the meeting is even necessary!

“Insights I have gleaned over the years of being a change management specialist have given me a unique perspective, allowing me to advise clients with well-earned authority on how to manage meetings well.

“If you are planning a meeting there are a few questions you need to ask yourself. Firstly, ask yourself whether the meeting is really needed. If the purpose is to disseminate information, could this be done through another means, such as via email or newsletter or any other channel that allows one way communication. Secondly, if the purpose of the meeting is to consult, could this be done via the same channels but include mechanisms for feedback by a certain deadline? If the purpose is to make a decision, identify the decision maker and consider whether this person could gather inputs, make a decision and then disseminate the outcome without the need for a meeting.

“Whatever the reason for holding a meeting, it does need to have a focus. You need to be clear why you are holding the meeting, what a good outcome would look like and how you would identify this.


Meeting do’s
“When planning a meeting, make sure you have the right attendees; make sure they know why they are attending and that they are clear on their role within the meeting. Prepare thoroughly. For instance, invitations to meetings should be clear about the purpose of the meeting; include an agenda with timings and explain the logistics. Also state whether the invitee can delegate another to be sent in their place. If invitees need to do any preparation, give them plenty of notice and rationale as to why they should be prioritising this preparation over other workload. Be clear about the process of the meeting. For each agenda item, identify who owns it. Identify what they need to do to prepare for that item and let them know. Be clear as to what is required for each agenda item. Is this an informative agenda point or does it need consultation with everyone in the meeting? Does a decision need to be made?

“At the meeting itself, agree some ground rules. If everyone is agreeable, anyone at the meeting can flag if a rule has been broken. An example of a ground rule would be having mobile phones silent or switched off. Make sure you focus on the agenda and don’t waver. At the end of the meeting, make sure everyone is aware and agrees to ‘next steps’. Each next step should have an owner and a deadline with an agreed overall review point. After the meeting is finished, make sure you have meeting notes out within 24 hours and include explicit next steps.


Meeting don’ts
“It is important to only invite people who can contribute; don’t invite onlookers. If someone is there only to be aware of what has happened or discussed, other means of informing them can be brought into play, such as a briefing note sent to them afterwards. Don’t invite only ‘yes’ men, invite those who will challenge your position and present a different point of view; but make sure you have thought beforehand how you will manage any sort of resistance in a win, win way.

“Lastly, never include an AOB in the meeting agenda. It usually opens up a can of worms. If someone is keen to discuss something, then they should talk to the meeting owner beforehand so that it can be explicitly incorporated into the agenda.


Practical pointers
“In conclusion, managing a meeting well is crucial for its ultimate success. On a very practical point, try and make the meeting experience as positive as possible. Choose a meeting room which is light and airy, with easy access to hot and cold drinks and toilets. Do not choose a concrete cell hidden in the building and miles from any refreshments or bathrooms.

“Before the meeting make sure you have clear meeting objectives to avoid any confusion, doubt or crossed lines. Circulate the meeting objectives and agenda ahead of time. Be very clear when the meeting starts so there is no late comers dribbling in. Each agenda item should say who’s leading it, whether it’s for information, consultation or decision making, plus time allocated to each. Make sure you mix the agenda up, so it’s not all information sharing or decision making. Make sure there is a mix of talk and tell. Include breaks if it’s a lengthy meeting. At the start, welcome everyone, confirm the meeting objectives so there’s no room for doubt and make people feel included.

“The meeting agenda should conclude with confirmation of actions and include names and deadlines for each action, so everyone is clear what they have committed to.


Meetings That Matter
“In conjunction with Emer O’Leary, a Crail Consulting associate, we have developed a programme called Meetings That Matter, specifically for organisations who recognise the importance of a good meetings culture and how this affects values, productivity, behaviour and ultimately, the bottom line. If you would like to know more, please visit the Meetings That Matter page on our website. We would be delighted to hear from you. In the meantime we wish you the very best in planning and executing effective meetings at your workplace!”