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Alternatives to Bad Meeting Habits
Docket is a meeting intelligence platform that helps you make your meetings more effective. And that is a relief because there are many facets to a meeting and many different types of meetings from industry, meeting types, and audience size. Because of the many variations and plethora of purposes, there are also many process challenges that can have a large impact on the success or failure of your company. Just a few of these may include:
- Impact on work progress – Any challenge in the meeting process can make, break, or delay whatever project, service, or cog you are in the meeting for in the first place. If attendees are not prepared or don’t show up, the solution to a problem or a decision to move forward may cause further delays.
- Impact on schedules – If a meeting doesn’t solve an issue or keep work moving forward, another meeting is needed. Every meeting has a cost. In larger organizations, finding time in the near future for a follow-up meeting can be challenging or impossible.
- Impact on company culture – Meeting process contributes heavily to company culture. If leaders are late, their teams are late. If there are no consequences for coming to a meeting prepared, this becomes the norm. And if conflicts arise among team members openly during meetings, this is a culture concern.
- Impact on customer – Whether a customer is impacted from a meeting you invite them to or from a meeting in support of them they are not even aware of, meeting process affects time to react to sales, support, and product needs each customer has with your company.
- Impact on profit – Any and every impact above and not listed impacts your bottom line. Late meetings? Delay to resolve? Slow to market? Each time a meeting is not run as efficiently as possible, your team, department, and company are bleeding a loss.
While meetings can be as different as the people in them or the reasons for them, there are similarities across each when it comes to meeting challenges. We will look at a few significant meeting processes that have a tendency to create challenges and then compare to alternatives that will help you and your organization be more successful in your meetings.
Meeting Issue: No Agenda
There are many schools of thought when it comes to whether to put the effort in advance of a meeting to create an agenda. Some reasons why people do not create agendas for meetings can include:
- “Creating agendas takes time.”
- “My team is smart, they will know what to do.”
- “No one reads it anyway.”
- “No one keeps topic.”
- “Keeping others on topic does not allow for creative thinking.”
While the above statements are not false, think about how not having an agenda can negatively impact a meeting and corporate culture:
- Conclusions take longer – If no one knows what the meeting is about or comes with preconceived notions, how quickly will it take for them to come to the right conclusion?
- People don’t show up – If there is no agenda, how does a meeting guest know if they are necessary? What if they pick a different meeting that seems more critical?
- There isn’t enough time – When there is no agenda, it isn’t just “creative thinking” that takes place…it is “creative speaking” as well. Without an agenda, guests tend to go rogue and use the floor as their personal platform.
DOCKET ALTERNATIVE: Create an agenda in a tool like Docket for a recurring meeting and put it to the test. While it might take a few minutes to think about up front, you are investing time to be ready for your meeting and to make your guests ready as well. In addition, once you create an agenda, save it as a template in a meeting tool like Docket so you can use it again and save time making small changes meeting to meeting.
Meeting Issue: No Agenda Details
Perhaps you do create agendas for your meetings but they are very high level like, “Discuss project alignment” with the assumption that everyone attending will know to bring their latest progress updates, challenges or blockers, and understand which team members are responsible to cover each. That sounds pretty clear, right? If someone sends that to you, other than a casual conversation, do you know what is expected of you? Would you know to be prepared to speak? Or know someone else will on your behalf? What if they don’t know your work status? Already, this meeting sounds a little chaotic.
When the agenda details are not details at all, a few bad things can happen:
- Guests are not prepared – Just like the need for an agenda in general, guests need details to understand what to bring to the table and whoo will take the lead. In a small meeting, this might be wing-able but in a larger organization, this can be costly chaos.
- The right people don’t attend – A generic agenda can mislead guests with the severity or need. If details seem loose, guests may think it is not critical for them to be present or critical people may be missed from the invitation.
- The meeting is a conversation instead of a working session – While it is always good to communicate with others, it is not a great way to use expensive meeting time. Meetings without agendas or agenda details tend to be a conversation difficult for even the best moderator to keep focused and on track. And this type of situation typically ends with a meeting that runs over which causes a negative impact to not only this meeting but everyone’s next meeting or work block as well.
DOCKET ALTERNATIVE: Include details on the meeting agenda including:
- A special goal or purpose – Tell all guests exactly what you want to walk away with at the end of the meeting. This should be something you can measure and say you either did or did not accomplish. It could be, “Decide on 3 website tests to run this month” or “Decide on 4 product ideas to explore.” Docket has a special place at the top of the meeting agenda and printed agenda to display this goal prominently for all to follow as a meeting guide.
- Several specific topics to achieve the meeting goal – The topics should all be related to the goal and be in some logical order. They should be very specific and clear and identify how long each topic gets to ensure there is enough time for all topics. Be practical when including multiple topics based on the meeting length, number of guests, and other factors. 10 agenda items for a 30 minute meeting is probably not a good idea. It is acceptable to break agenda items into multiple meetings. More meetings are okay if each one solves a different problem and all keep work moving forward.
- Cancel the meeting – When there isn’t enough or any content, why have the meeting? Make sure to check with other guests to see if they had anything to cover and if the answer is no, cancel and start preparing for the next one.
Meeting Issue: No Prep Time
Now that you’ve created an agenda with a purpose and related topics to follow, saving them as a surprise reveal at the beginning of the meeting is not a great idea, yet there are many who choose this path. Some reasons why people tend to hold agendas back include:
- “I don’t want anyone to see my project until the meeting.”
- “Everyone is too busy. They can absorb the content during the scheduled meeting time.”
- “I will send it out just before the meeting.” (And forgets)
- “Everyone knows where to find it when they are ready to review it.”
The above reasoning creates more challenges such as the following:
- Busy people and no prep time – It doesn’t give others a chance to prepare on their own time. None of us know exactly how busy each guest is or what their plans are to prioritize their work. Waiting to send out an agenda on your timeline does not necessarily align with others’ time or ability to prepare.
- Unwanted feedback – While sharing out work before you are able to walk someone through it may prevent unsolicited feedback or comments you could address directly, what is the harm in sharing it out early for someone to review and be prepared to offer feedback in the meeting? If anything, it will make the meeting more productive because they will come with questions or feedback up front, instead of taking up time in the meeting to review and digest. Many times, you will get a response that they need time to review it. Had they had it prior to the meeting, they could have brought their feedback and reduced the chances for another meeting.
- Dialogue happens outside of the meeting – There are times an agenda with questions spawn dialogue in email and chat. Some find this frustrating and suggest it wait for the meeting. Others become agitated if it cannot be solved outside the meeting.
DOCKET ALTERNATIVE: Share the agenda in advance of the meeting. A few suggestions include:
- Give time for review – Depending on the amount of content or expected pre-work, share out the agenda and related items in advance to give various guests time to prepare.
- Set expectations – If you would prefer questions or feedback come after the design, ideas, or agenda are formerly presented, set those expectations when you share the agenda. If you are expecting feedback, also make this clear. With a tool like Docket, you can include a note to all guests you share the agenda with to set expectations.
- Enable pre-meeting dialogue – Unless unproductive, we should all strive for constant contact to keep work moving forward. Being restricted to meeting time can make some progress impossible. If someone can answer a question or meet a challenge outside of a meeting, then let that dialogue blossom and grow.
Meeting Issue: No Record of Results
There are many who may take notes for themselves but when it comes to documenting in a shared space, this is not considered. A few reasons for this may include:
- “I would rather focus on the meeting discussion than take notes.”
- “Someone else is much better at taking notes than I am.”
- “My notes only pertain to me and won’t make sense to anyone else.”
But here is a look at the challenges this creates:
- No understanding of what was discussed – If there are no notes from a meeting, how does anyone recall what was discussed and what decisions were made? If a bank told you they gave you a paycheck but there was no record, surely you would want proof of the transaction?
- Conflict or confusion in decisions may not be evident – What if person A heard one decision and person B heard something different? Unless this was discovered during the meeting, it may not be evident until both record what they heard.
- Ownership of tasks and actions may be unclear – If nothing is recorded but decisions were made, how do those that were asked to complete an action know what they were asked and when it is due? What about those that were not in the meeting? How will they have context or even be aware of the ask?
- People move on to the next thing – All of us are multitasking from project to project, meeting to meeting, customer to customer, and so forth. Most of us don’t have the luxury to leave a meeting and immediately work on what was discussed. So how does an undocumented meeting become available later on for when we are ready to work on it?
DOCKET ALTERNATIVE: Take notes and actions. Here are a few suggestions:
- Take Notes – Whether scribing every detail to documenting a final decision, anything you and your guests can capture to memorialize the results of the discussion is key.
- Record Actions, Owners, and Due Dates – It is critical to record tasks, assignees, and desired due dates to ensure transparency and ownership. These tasks get added to already big piles of projects and tasks so including proper priority is key. Docket is a great meeting tool to create tasks and assign them to meeting guests.
- Share a Recap – We will talk about this one in greater detail below!
Meeting Issue: Post Meeting Confusion
The meeting is done and everyone walks away feeling good about the discussion. But when they return to their desks or pick up where the meeting left off, that is where more challenges occur where a recap would have been useful. However, many decide not to for various reasons such as:
- “Everyone is responsible enough to remember what was discussed.”
- “Anyone with a task knows what they need to do and will get it done on time.”
- “I don’t have time to send a recap.”
- “My notes are only important to me.”
Let’s look at the challenges this creates for meeting guests and others interested in the meeting output:
- We forget – We are human. No matter how hard even the best of us works, recalling tasks and actions from a meeting without documentation is impossible.
- We misinterpret – Again, we are human! A decision made in a meeting could be heard 5 different ways. We also hear what we want to hear or what is important to us.
- We have other things to worry about – New decisions being added to the pile of other previous decisions requires prioritization and perhaps even more decisions.
DOCKET ALTERNATIVE: Share a recap through a tool like Docket and do so taking the following recommendations into consideration:
- Highlight Decisions – Ensure the recap highlights the key decisions to keep everyone aligned but also to quickly identify where attendees may not agree.
- Include Task Owners and Due Dates – Create an atmosphere of transparency where everyone can see the tasks and due dates assigned to various team members.
- Share with All Meeting Guests – Ensure everyone present receives a final copy for their records.
Share with Other Non-Meeting Guests as Needed – If in your organization, it makes sense to share with non-meeting guests, provide them with just enough context to understand information they were not present to discuss.