Guide for Effective Meetings – How to use time well and deal with anxiety

Guide for Effective Meetings – How to use time well and deal with anxiety

We can say that there are two war cries when the argument is about the necessity of meetings. On one hand, the argument is: Meetings are venomous. On the other hand, the rebuttal is: The venom is the lack of focus of who conducts the meeting. Not to mention, of course, those who silently conform that: Meetings are a necessary evil. No matter what side you pick, one thing is for sure… Effective Meetings are hard to come by. 

Even when teeming with intelligent people, it’s possible for a work meeting to not lead anywhere – or to simply lead to a mean headache, not to mention  delays, disagreements, and so much productivity thrown right out the window. It’s what happens when there is a lack of a leadership attitude and strategic vision from who called the meeting. Additionally, even a person well versed in what he does can stumble all over themselves in a presentation, due to anxiety.

In the light of these issues, we present an illustrated guide to more relaxed and productive meetings. With arguments and studies to get you out of here better than you came – unlike what must have happened in many meetings in your life.

Work meetings: To have or not to have? That, is the question. The answer does not come immediately. Rather, it is necessary to evaluate what those who defend, and those who reject, say about the practice of convening a working meeting for discussions, brainstorming, and decision-making. After all, at what moments are they dispensable, and when are they effective meetings? What is the Ideal frequency and duration of meetings? Let’s take a look at the positions. One of them are also yours.

Yes: Meetings are necessary

 

James Graham
James Graham

“Meetings aren’t toxic. In fact, blaming the concept of meetings because many of your meetings are boring is missing the point. It all goes back to a basic business rule I learned a long time ago:

Process is not a substitute for leadership.” By Jay Garmon, who said what you just read in the article “Okay, enough with the ‘meetings are toxic’ crap” Meetings with colleagues bring, if not always, answers and ideas better than solitary work, full of e-mails, calls, and video converence…

When it gets down to crunch time on a project, regular, even daily meetings really help avoid miscommunications that can make you miss a deadline. Nobody doubts the effectiveness of meeting in these cases, because the meetings are obviously productive”, He adds. However, Garmon agrees with those who have real awe for work meetings. Moreover, he cites the two most common situations that lead to this negative feeling.

Example 1 | Meetings to Discuss

Somebody sends out a weekly status report. Nobody reads the status report. Manager gets upset that nobody reads the status report, so he or she schedules a weekly meeting where everybody goes over the status report. These meetings are boring, accomplish little, and make everybody hate the idea of meetings. What went wrong? The manager never asked why nobody is reading the status report. If the report isn’t helping people do their jobs, why is it being written. If the report could help, but nobody reads it anyway, it’s the manager’s job to address the underperformance, not schedule a meeting to force-feed the data. That is using a meeting as a substitute for leadership.

Example 2 | Meetings to make a decision

A key business process requires that someone make a decision, choosing one priority over another. The manager doesn’t know what to do, doesn’t have a clear vision for the product or process, and certainly doesn’t want to be held responsible for making the wrong choice. So what does he or she do? Call a meeting of all involved parties to “get buy-in” where everyone grinds their personal axes until either A) the decision is postponed while we “study the issue” or B) everyone argues until tired and then resigns themselves to a course of action, so that if it’s the wrong one, everyone is to blame, and thus no one is to blame. This meeting becomes a regular feature of the business week, as business priorities must always be set. This same breed of meeting can be used to “brainstorm new ideas”. These meetings are boring, accomplish little, and make everybody hate the idea of meetings. What went wrong? That is using a meeting as a substitute for leadership.

>> Recomended reading: The Effectively Business Communication

What do you think about this?

Do you think meetings are often used as a resource for leaders to dodge leadership? In other words, people reproduce a tradition – which is to convene meetings – rather than questioning their relevance, on alternative and more stimulating ways of resolving the issue.

Well, let’s see what those who advocate a model in which meetings are an exception to the routine have to say. They can probably give us good tips to make for more effective meetings.

No: For a world of less meetings

 

James Graham (New York Times)
James Graham (New York Times)

There is no shortage of research that practically implores the reduction in the number and duration of meetings. In addition, what we can infer from them, in advance, is: meetings cannot happen for any reason, interrupt the routine without notice and end when necessary.

In the article “Meet is murder”, published in The New York Times, Virginia Heffernan states that Fifteen percent of an organization’s time is spent in meetings every day and the hole caused by them in the USA is $37 Billion per year. The reason? The fall in productivity of the professionals involved.

“There is nothing more toxic for productivity than a meeting”, says a manifesto of 37 Signals, that detail, “They break your work day into small, incoherent pieces that disrupt your natural workflow. Usually about words and abstract concepts and generally convey an abysmally small amount of information per minute. There at least one moron that inevitably gets his turn to waste everyone’s time with nonsense and drift off subject easier than a Chicago cab in heavy snow. They frequently have agendas so vague nobody is really sure what they are about, and, finally, require thorough preparation that people rarely do anyway” So then, what’s the solution?

Three specialists defend their methods

Apart from the opinions above, we also present the work meeting methods by Paul Graham, Stewart Butterfield and Brian Robertson – Big names when it comes to management and productivity.

  1. Paul Graham

Co-founder  of Y Combinator (One of the most renowned investment funds in the world of startups) reflected in his essay “Maker’s Schedule, Manager’s Schedule”: “Don’t your spirits rise at the thought of having an entire day free to work, with no appointments at all? Well, that means your spirits are correspondingly depressed when you don’t.”

What he proposes, as the title of his essay demonstrates, is that there are two types of professional schedules: that of the maker and the manager. “The manager’s schedule is for bosses. You can block off several hours for a single task if you need to, but by default, you change what you’re doing every hour. For someone on this schedule, attending a meeting boils down to finding a place on the agenda.”

“But there’s another way of using time that’s common among people who make things, like programmers and writers.,” he says “They generally prefer to use time in units of half a day at least”, sometimes before and after lunch. After all, “You can’t write or program well in units of an hour. That’s barely enough time to get started. A single meeting can blow a whole afternoon, by breaking it into two pieces each too small to do anything hard in. For someone on the maker’s schedule, having a meeting is like throwing an exception. It doesn’t merely cause you to switch from one task to another; it changes the mode in which you work.”

When interviewed by the NYTimes, he explains what he considers an ideal work meeting: “There are no more than four or five participants, and they know each other and trust each other. They go through a list of open questions quickly while doing something else, for example, lunch. There are no presentations. Nobody tries to impress anyone. They hardly see when the meeting wraps up and go back to work.’’

>> Recomended reading: Time Management Techniques for “The Good Life” 

  1. Stewart Butterfield

Founder and CEO of Slack, He proposes a model that says preserving the camaraderie and usefulness for an Effective Meeting: the online meeting, or in other words, via Slack. Launched in 2013, the mobile application has won teams and companies from various industries and ports, with its practicality to create and organize talk groups, and the ability to share heavy files.

“Slack allows teams to have both real-time conversations [like WhatsApp, Skype, or a face-to-face meeting], and conversations with wait times [such as email]”, says Butterfield, which highlights the fact that all information exchanged is archived for later decision-making.

  1. Brian Robertson

Author of Holacracy management method, Brian Robertson defends another concept about effective meetings. Skeptical of predominant corporate structures, which he said led to bankruptcy in 2009, Robertson published Holacracy, the book where he argues that “minority voices need a space to record problems that others do not see” and that “a company must function as an evolutionary organism”

The Holacratic system is meeting planning based on small cells of people called Circles. Each circle should hold “tactical meetings” on a weekly or bi-weekly basis for follow-up and “governance meetings” at a slightly lower frequency, biweekly or monthly, which will allow space for each participant to speak.

More specifically, the Holacratic meetings are made up of moments that Robertson calls Tension, which is when people express their concerns about business management issues, adopted processes, projects, or even personal concerns. Everyone is free to ask questions of enlightenment, which only after being put on the table, are followed by reactions. Someone, called the facilitator, is in charge of conducting everything.

The break happens and everyone can talk as much as they want, and however they want to. “Every kind of reaction is welcome, from intellectual critiques to emotional outbursts.” When they return to focus, there are several stages, such as Perfection, Clarification, Objections and Integration, which basically consist of giving the voice and time to all, organized, to exhibit and help themselves. Finally, everyone present is invited to share a suggestion to improve the next meeting. A truely effective meeting.

One of the main principles of this methodology is to extirpate inhibition. Even those who are not shy can withdraw at a meeting and never point out improvements or ideas for the day-to-day business or brand evolution. Provoking dialogue is not a simple task, especially because it requires the tact of the leader to notice if someone is still uncomfortable, or if he prefers to collaborate in a way other than, for example, proposing creative ideas, but practicing his analytical thinking.

However, there is always a means to foster the creativity of the team, even among those who are not used to this modality of intelligence.

>> Recomended test: What type of manager are you?

(Bonus) How to Design an Agenda for an Effective Meeting

No matter how informal your work environment, decisions made at meetings can be recorded and given to the participants and to whom they are interested. For this, there is effective meeting planning. The Harvard Buisness Reivew show us the best way to make a meeting Agenda for effective meetings.

  1. Seek input from team members. If you want your team to be engaged in meetings, make sure the agenda includes items that reflect their needs.
    2.Select topics that affect the entire team.Team meeting time is expensive and difficult to schedule. It should mainly be used to discuss and make decisions on issues that affect the whole team
    3. List agenda topics as questions the team needs to answer. Most agenda topics are simply several words strung together to form a phrase, for example: “office space reallocation.”
    4. Estimate a realistic amount of time for each topic. This serves two purposes. First, it requires you to do the math — to calculate how much time the team will need for introducing the topic, answering questions, resolving different points of view, generating potential solutions, and agreeing on the action items that follow from discussion and decisions.
    5. Make the first topic “review and modify agenda as needed.” Even if you and your team have jointly developed the agenda before the meeting, take a minute to see if anything needs to be changed due to late breaking events.
    6. End the meeting with a plus/delta. If your team meets regularly, two questions form a simple continuous improvement process: What did we do well? What do we want to do differently for the next meeting? Investing five or ten minutes will enable the team to improve performance, working relationships, and team member satisfaction.

 

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