I think that most of you will agree that staff meetings generally feel like they take too long. That may simply be down to the fact that participants have work on their desks they need to get done, but also the impression that many – if not all – subjects discussed in any given meeting have little, if nothing, to do with their particular job.
The length of a meeting depends to some degree on the choice of participants: it makes sense to keep people in a meeting only as long as they really, really need to be there. If you have multiple subjects to discuss, not all of them might be of interest to all your participants; maybe there is an opportunity to plan cut-off points where only those staff members involved in a particular issue stay a little longer?
While regular meetings can be an incentive and lead to an increase in your team’s internal connections, too much of a good thing can be bad. If meetings peter off into nothingness, and become predictable to a point where everyone in the room turns on the autopilot, you’re missing the whole point of the exercise: passing information and communicating what’s important.
Shorter, more regular meetings can be useful, but you’ll have to find a balance between too many meetings and meetings that are too intense in order to keep the attention. Think about separating the staff meetings dealing with day-to-day issues (the weekly ones?) from the meetings where a particular project is discussed: they have different objectives and the latter does not necessarily involve all the staff. Having a short and peppy weekly meeting that focuses on the working of the office will keep them active, whereas a focused project meeting that stays clear of general office issues will be more productive as well.
Talking about the choice of participants: it is true that a lot of meetings I have been invited to where really not useful for me to attend. Yes: sometimes there is a wish to pass information to a number of people in the outer ranges of the team, but what is the point if someone is sitting in the room and has no clue what is being talked about? Wouldn’t this be better served with a clear memo outlining the information you want to pass on, especially if it is specialist information that may only come in handy sometime far in the future when the person has completely forgotten what jumbled information they had picked up in the first place?
Choosing your participants wisely is important, of course, but you cannot always expect all of them to understand why exactly they are there. Maybe there’s a point to be made to explain it to them? It’s a useful exercise for you to sit down and think about why they have to be here and if you cannot come up with a good enough reason you would be happy to give them, maybe they don’t need to be there after all?
When we think of meeting preparation, we usually consider content and speakers. However, why not think about time constraints and participants as well? If planned properly, you can actually do three meetings at once: start with a core group for one project, then continue with the whole team, then send away everyone who is not involved in the second project (whose members will be there and just stay a little longer).
This way, not only do you save time for yourself (rather than running three meetings separately and waiting for participants each time), you will ensure that nobody sits around turning their thumbs during the bits that don’t concern them. Admittedly, the meeting might still take as long for you, but all your collaborators will gain some time to get on with their own work rather than sitting around bored or anxious to get going.
Any notification on your phone not only creates an interruption to yourself, but to the room as a whole. It also adds a level of anxiety about the content of the message and – if you were able to read the message – about the necessity to react quickly. If the meeting is managed properly, you should be out of there in less than half an hour anyway, especially if the meeting goes on without interruptions! So: turn off all phones or go into flight mode for the duration.
Those are only the five most obvious things not directly related to content that should be considered for staff meetings, and you’ll likely come up with others on your own. However, it might be worth your while to sit down and consider these for a moment. Maybe you’ll find that these could improve the effect of your meetings?
While you are considering these ideas, don't forget about all the other things that make or break a staff meeting: have a proper agenda, prepare all the materials necessary and keep them handy for when they are needed, leave time for follow-up or more detailed explanations of projects right afterwards, stay calm and anticipate every possible issue. I know, it's hard to be a show-runner...
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Some pertinent ideas from the 'old office dog' who has seen it all, to help clear away the mess in your office.
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My name is Tilo Flache and it is my mission to help my clients organise and declutter their work spaces.