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Top tips on how to run brilliant meetings

Owen Cook

We’ve all had those weeks where we feel like we’ve been in constant meetings. We’ve also all probably been in a meeting we feel we don’t have time for, have questioned its value, as well as possibly why we’re even in it! Article by Owen Cook, Head of Programmes for Bank of Me, by The Culture Builders

Part of transforming the meetings you have starts right there – with a shift in attitude towards them. If we approach meetings as being outside of the day job, a necessary evil, as opposed to one of a number of important elements of our work and an important way of communicating with those around us, we’re on the backfoot to start with and the chances of executing them brilliantly is slim to none. 

Meetings are a coming together of minds. An opportunity to exchange ideas, listen, develop thoughts and formulate action plans. With the right planning, management and follow up, meetings could become one of your most productive activities, as opposed to an obstacle to productivity. 

Here’s my top ten tips to transform meetings:
1. What’s the purpose – the biggest source of negative emotions around meetings is when they don’t have a clear purpose or focus. One simple technique of high performers is to be clear at the start of a meeting – is this for information, input or decision? This simple habit has created thousands of more productive conversations across the world.

2. Take back diary control – override your calendar’s default meetings slots and try 50 minute meetings instead of the usual hour or 30 minutes. It drives pace, allows people time to refresh before their next activity and helps to keep the focus in the room. Avoid running important meetings at 3pm too!

3. Meet on the move – how about walking meetings? The more oxygen to the brain, the more ideas to come out of it. Try small group meetings outdoors and on the move for a more creative, inspired output as well as a feel good deposit of natural endorphins into your human Bank of Me. The summer is a perfect time to start.

4. Airplane meetings – a great little tip to get people to give a meeting their full focus is to declare it an airplane meeting and get everyone to turn their phone to airplane mode. It’s a less risky alternative to getting everyone to hand their phones in (although we know clients that do this to great effect!) and it’s novel so tends to get a positive response.

5. Vote with your feet – next time you are invited to a meeting, ask yourself, what’s the purpose (information, input, involvement or decision making) and go in knowing what you’re giving or getting. If it doesn’t hit one of those, ask if you can vote with your feet and decline (with an explanation why). You can also trial a meetings exit policy where anyone who feels they are neither adding nor gaining value from the meeting has the liberty to leave. It can have quite an impact on active participation.

6. Concertina don’t cancel – How often do we cancel meetings or one to ones because everyone’s busy, stressed and getting that time back seems like the best option? However meetings are there for a reason and regularly cancelling them can lead to frustration and misalignment. Instead of cancelling meetings, concertina them. Ask for just 15 minutes from everyone and focus on the most pressing items – chances are you’ll cover most of what you needed to.

7. The huddle – world class performers, the Red Arrows, as well as other elite sports people and business leaders we work with, are expert at utilising the ‘huddle’. They meet immediately when they spot an issue, usually standing up and have a fast and focused conversation. Rather than wait until you can call a formal meeting in diaries, just ask the right people to jump on a call (virtual huddle) or gather round in a circle. It’s a brilliant way of nipping issues in the bud before they bubble up into conflict.  

8. The customer chair – most organisations have a customer, client or key stakeholder/ beneficiary they exist to serve. Get an extra chair for that person and have it in all of your meetings. At different points in the meeting, turn to the imaginary persona in the room and reflect on what they would think about the issue you’re discussing. It’s a brilliant way to stay customer centric. An alternative is to take it in turns to play that role. 

9. Unexpected guests – think really carefully about who you invite to each meeting. Avoid the usual suspects for certain subject areas and get some fresh blood in the room. It helps move the thinking on, brings a different perspective and can help unlock ongoing conundrums. 

10. Get to the crux – How many meetings do the quick win items first and leave the chunky, more complex issues until later on in the agenda, when energy, attention and creativity is lower? Get to the crux and tackle the richest, most valuable topics first. 

Meetings are really about communication and that communication should give a benefit. So reframe how you view meetings – not a drain on your time but a way to ‘get stuff done’! Be bold and transform your ‘meetings culture’ into a ‘great meetings culture’. 

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