Managing meetings effectively is a core skill every manager should develop. Although there's no mystery to what makes a meeting productive, it can take practice and attention to detail to become an effective leader of meetings. It all starts with knowing when to call a meeting, and why.
Is It a Meeting?
How do you know it's time to call a meeting? What type of meeting is it? What's the purpose of the meeting? Here are some typical situations when a meeting may be called for:
- You're Managing a Project
Projects tend to require meetings at various stages: at the beginning, as the project plan is coming together, and at regular intervals while the work is being done. Toward the end of the project, depending on its size, daily meetings could be necessary.
- You're Managing People
Many bosses call weekly staff meetings in addition to weekly one-on-one meetings with their direct reports. These standing meetings provide a chance to review the work accomplished in the previous week and look ahead to what will be accomplished in the coming week. Weekly one-on-one meetings also give the chance to provide feedback outside the performance review process.
- You're Managing a Client
Many types of companies, especially professional services firms, make presentations to clients - sales presentations, kickoff meetings, interim status meetings, and final presentations. Ongoing relationships also typically involve periodic meetings.
- Email is Getting Complicated
When an email conversation gets increasingly complex, it can be time to call a meeting so that the conversation can take place in spoken words - which can be quicker than a series of carefully crafted email responses. A conference call or an in-person meeting may be necessary.
- Problems are Arising
If a project is getting off course, interpersonal conflicts are escalating, or any other emergency occurs, it's time to call a meeting.
Groups are great at some tasks, like weighing alternatives and generating ideas. But sometimes a meeting is not the best or most efficient way to get something done. Some types of work are best done in subcommittees - even subcommittees of one - then presented to the larger group for review and approval. An example is the group asked to provide comments and suggested changes to a document. It is said that a committee can write the Declaration of Independence, provided they appoint a subcommittee with Thomas Jefferson as chair.
What Type of Meeting is It?
The purpose of the meeting should help determine the appropriate format. If it's to get clarification on something, a quick question at the water cooler or a visit to someone's office may take the place of a meeting. The length and formality of the meeting will vary depending on how many people are invited, how much notice is given, the size of the company (larger companies often have more formal meeting protocols than smaller ones), and who's leading the meeting. The basic types of meetings are as follows.
- Standing Meeting
A regularly scheduled appointment, such as a weekly one-on-one with a boss or a department; or a project meeting taking place at intervals until the project is over. Since these meetings recur, their format and agenda become relatively well established. Although it's important to hold these meetings at routine intervals for convenience and consistency, at times they can be rescheduled.
- Topical Meeting
A gathering called to discuss one subject, such as a work issue or a task related to a project.
A highly structured meeting where one or more people speak and a moderator leads the proceedings. The purpose is usually to inform. Attendees may have an opportunity to ask questions, but typically their participation is limited.
A highly structured, moderated meeting, like a presentation, where various participants contribute following a fixed agenda.
- Emergency Meeting
A meeting called to address a crisis, whether internal or external. Such meetings are often arranged with very little notice, but attendance is mandatory. If the emergency meeting conflicts with another appointment, the emergency meeting typically takes precedence.
A structured meeting with an educational purpose. Seminars are usually led by people with expertise in the subject matter.
What's Different About Conference Calls and Videoconferences?
Conference calls and videoconferences are similar to in-person meetings, but the differences in media suggest some changes in the way these meetings are managed. Here are some tips on managing technology-enabled conferences.
- Set an agenda in advance.
- Choose a time that works for all participants, factoring in time zones.
- Confirm attendee list and make sure all handouts have arrived.
- If the call is incoming, be ready when the phone rings. If you're cutting it close, delegate someone to pick up.
- If the call is outgoing, dial in one or two minutes before the conference is scheduled to begin.
- If you're initiating, learn how to use the conferencing system ahead of time.
- Identify yourself by name even if your system does it automatically.
- Make sure you can see and hear everyone (videoconferences).
- Greet each person by name.
- Don't leave out the small talk.
- Repeat names during the call (especially teleconferences).
- If you're a silent participant, resist the urge to talk.
- Let one person speak at a time, so that no one's words get cut off.
- Stick to your role: are you leading? facilitating? lurking?
- If a party becomes disconnected from a call facilitated by a teleconferencing system, that person should dial back in unobtrusively.
- If parties are disconnected from a three-way call, the person who initiated the call should reconnect the person.
- End on time. As in all meetings, it's important to stick to the agenda and manage time effectively.