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I Hate Meetings! Ten Rules to Make Them More Effective

29th May 2013
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We probably all spend much more of our life in meetings than we would like. Here are some ideas to free up time and make those meetings really valuable.

Far too often, when people schedule meetings and training sessions they do not consider the professional costs of doing so. For those of us who are obliged to account for our time, this can mount up very quickly.

A sole practitioner has nobody to meet (at least internally) and has less need to worry about this issue but everybody else is likely to sympathise with some of the points in this article. These principles can also be effective when considering attendance at external conferences, promotional meetings and potential networking opportunities.

As a simple reminder of cost, if 20 partners from a large firm sit in a room together for two hours then, using an average charge a rate of £500 and utilisation of 50% (adjust each of these numbers to taste), they will have blown a cool £10,000. Unless the meeting is worth more than £10,000, something has gone badly wrong.

It is noticeable that based on recent experience while the civil service has its weaknesses, when it comes to conducting meetings there are few to beat it for discipline and direction.

Here are ten ideas that might just help to alleviate meeting fatigue.

1 Don't Hold the Meeting at All

It is very apparent that many meetings serve no purpose. Often, the same meeting takes place month after month or week after week because nobody has gone to the trouble of minuting exactly what has been discussed before. Therefore good minutes can also help in this context.

The easiest way to save time in connection with meetings is to consider two to three days in advance whether there is any way at all of avoiding the meeting. Perhaps a quick e-mail, a couple of one-to-one sessions or simple cancellation will do the trick.

2 Keep Numbers to a Minimum

It is a general maxim that the fewer people who attend any meeting the more effective it will be. Too many of us love to hear the sound of their own voices and the bigger the audience the greater the need to pontificate.

The most effective meetings typically have only three to five people in attendance although up to eight or nine can work well. Anything beyond that is likely to be long and tedious.

3 Appoint a Strong Chairman

A good chairman will always be able to direct a meeting, allowing participants to give opinions while at the same time stopping them from talking unnecessarily.

The chair should take a little time out to prepare in advance so that he or she knows know exactly what each item is supposed to be about and maybe even how long discussion on that topic should take.

4 Set a Formal Agenda Well in Advance

It is much easier to control a meeting that is about specific topics rather than merely held for the sake of meeting itself.

5 Identify Desired Outcomes in Advance

If you know what you are trying to achieve, then it is far easier to do so. This forethought will prevent discussions on peripheral topics and should also mean that any showdowns can take place swiftly between those who are not in agreement, if this is necessary.

6 Start on Time

One of the most frustrating things about meetings is the long wait for a few stragglers who cannot be bothered to turn up on time. Two possible solutions are to penalise those who turn up late or start the meeting without them and let them work out what has happened afterwards. It can also help to put a really serious matter at the top of the agenda to encourage prompt attendance.

7 Set a Specific Finishing Time

Many meetings drag on for hours simply because nobody has decided the time at which they should end. A good chair will ensure a meeting comes down at a specific time, regardless of the efforts of one or two people to keep it going forever.

It is also necessary to recognise that on occasion there is not much of an agenda. In such cases, the meeting should always be ended as soon as possible and not used to demonstrate Parkinson's Law that work will always fill the time available to it.

8 Consider Holding Meetings Off-Site

Be careful because this is a double-edged sword. If a meeting is held off-site, then all of the attendees are obliged to travel to the location, which is a waste of time. Against that, they are probably little more likely to turn up on time and will concentrate on the meeting itself rather than other working commitments.

9 Ban Blackberries and iPhones

There is nothing more depressing than sitting in a boring meeting watching everybody answering their e-mails. In fact, in some cases they are probably playing games on their iPads or iPhones rather than even working.

If a meeting is worth holding, then everyone in attendance should concentrate on it from start to finish. If you see people playing on their phones, not only are they demonstrating rudeness but the meeting itself is almost certainly a failure.

10 Classify Attendees

It might be worth considering splitting those who are potentially going to come to a meeting into different categories. The obvious would be those who are required to attend, those who may attend if they wish and those who can attend but are not allowed to contribute or, if relevant, vote.

Observers should then be briefed so that they understand exactly why they are at the meeting and the ground rules by which they must abide.

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Replies (4)

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By Flash Gordon
29th May 2013 10:00

only 2 rules necessary

1, Never call a meeting

2, Always turn down an invite to attend a meeting

If everyone stuck to those rules then it's problem solved :)

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Jennifer Adams
By Jennifer Adams
29th May 2013 12:17

Legality and effective running of Board Meetings

You need to be a bit careful when it is said 'never call a meeting' - yes, I know it was said in jest - but although there is no specific legal obligation to meet as a Board under the 'Model' Articles any decision made by directors must either be a majority decision if made at a meeting or a unanimous decision otherwise (Reg 7(1) Co Act 2006). Altho this 'general rule' does not apply if the company has just one director.

As ever it depends on what the Articles say.

See my article Board meetings: Get the details right for detail as to the legalities, conduct of meetings and format of minutes.

 Here are a couple of suggestions from the article...

Suggestion: Amend Articles specifying either agreed different methods of making Board decisions or stating that decisions reached are always confirmed in writing - shareholders are less likely to challenge the validity of decisions made if this is shown to have been agreed.

 Suggestion: Amend Articles to agree a policy on remote participation; telephone conferencing being a common means of participation.

 

 

 

 

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By Satwaki Chanda
29th May 2013 13:08

Everyone should stand - no chairs!

 

I was told of this by an ex merchant banker. One of the most effective chairmen he knew, used to hold meetings in a room with no chairs. Everyone was forced to stand. No meeting he "chaired" ever lasted longer than 20 minutes.

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By Caber Feidh
31st May 2013 18:39

The Privy Council stands during meetings

Shortening meetings by forcing everyone to stand is not a new idea.

From http://privycouncil.independent.gov.uk/work-of-the-privy-council-office/faqs/

"We understand that this custom in place at Privy Council meetings was initiated by Queen Victoria following the death of the Prince Consort (1861), when she wished to reduce her public duties to the minimum necessary .... All that Queen Victoria needed to do, of course, to ensure that the Council stood was to remain standing herself. Etiquette does not allow sitting while the Sovereign is standing. To this day even The Queen stands at a PC meeting."

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