Saturday, June 16, 2007

10 Attributes of Well-Run Meetings

I love well-run meetings. The key here - well-run. What are the qualities of a well-run meeting?

1) Facilitated. Note the distinction between this property and "led" or "managed" or "controlled". The person running the meeting has good skills at eliciting input, tracking progress and action items, and keeping everyone engaged.

2) Non-laptop/PDA focused. I can't recount how many meetings I've attended where one or, usually more, attendees have laptops/PDA's open and are focused somewhere else. Yes, I understand multitasking and the demands on our time, and the usefulness of getting things done while sitting in a meeting. The cause and effect here is not always clear, but I submit that if the meeting was well-run, the attendees would be riveted to the discussion topic to the point where they'd forget they were carrying a PDA.

3) Accomplishment-bound instead of time-bound. Meetings fill the time they are allotted. If you have 26 minutes worth of productive discussion, don't keep the meeting going to fill the whole hour you reserved. Keep focused, accomplish your objective, and release folks early to go do their email.

4) Speaking of objectives.... HAVE ONE! In agile, we talk about having "acceptance criteria" for story completion. We should adopt the same approach to meeting management. An agenda would be nice too - for more formal meetings - but I don't think it's always necessary.

5) Take issues offline. This is easy for an effective facilitator to drive, but is not done nearly enough.

6) Determine if a meeting is the right approach to accomplishing your objective. I was a participant in a weekly meeting for a couple of months for which the only agenda item was to go through an action item list and report status. I stopped going. So did many others. Fortunately, the organizer(s) got the message and canceled it. We can easily update a wiki as needed to update status. If folks have questions, walk over to the other person's office and talk in person.

7) Find a good time for the meeting. I know that cross-oceanic teams sometimes necessitate bizarre meeting times (unfortunately, early morning for me - ugh). If you have to have an 8am (or 7am or....) meeting, at least bring bagels and coffee or something. And don't schedule lame meetings for that timeframe, because your attendance will suffer even more for the time schedule (in addition to the lameness factor). If I'm an attendee to that early morning meeting, and the alarm goes off, I have a choice.... hit the snooze, or wake up excited to attend the meeting. Unfortunately, my snooze-button is well-warn.

8) Cancel if the right people can't attend. Use those "optional" and "required" tags on your meeting invitations and mean it! If someone is required, and they reject your invitation, find out why and reschedule or address the issue.

9) Don't call all-day meetings unless you have a plan for how to spend the time.

10) Don't forget the remote attendees. I find this difficult; the conference phone is dialed to the conference line and the remote attendees are there, but often the facilitator forgets them, or doesn't include them in the discussion as often as possible. Also - make the communication bandwidth as rich as possible. Use Netmeeting or other conference alternatives to share the desktop with remote participants, and set up a webcam if you can. The more you can do to make the remote attendees feel a part of the meeting, the more valuable participation you'll gain from their attendance.

I could go on. What attributes do you find to be important in meeting effectiveness and efficiency?