I once sat in a 2 hour long meeting, having a vivid daydream about how great it would be if I started projectile vomiting. In my daydream, everybody cleared the meeting room in disgust and panic, thus I escaped the air-conditioned prison that is more commonly referred to as a bad meeting.
If you’d prefer to avoid having people daydreaming about escaping your meetings, these are some of my observations regarding ‘meeting etiquette’.
Is it really necessary to have the meeting? Who must attend, and who’s optional?
Personally, I like to attend 1 or 2 meetings a day. It breaks up the monotony of sitting in front of a computer and can actually make me more productive as I then have to use the rest of the workday wisely. But many other people do not have the luxury of a balanced workday and their schedules are jam packed with back to back meetings. They’re not going to appreciate it if you have invited them ‘just in case’. If a question can be answered via email, send an email. It’s important to discern when a meeting will be the most effective form of communication; such as when you are meeting stakeholders for the first time, seeking a collective resolution to an issue or running through something so incredibly detailed that you don’t trust anybody to pay attention unless you’re guiding them through (unless you want to sneak it under the radar, then email it!).
Set an Agenda
To set the scene for a productive meeting, you need to let people know what will be discussed so that they can prepare. If it’s a long meeting, send out an agenda of the points to be discussed. This will keep the meeting on track. If you want sign off on a document, send that document ahead of the meeting. The aim is to minimise the time that needs to be spent in that room.
There is this one guy at work who runs a reoccurring weekly meeting for a project. Even if there is nothing to discuss, he will hold that meeting and drag everybody out of our office building to his building down the road to have a ‘general chat’. Needless to say, he is not on my Christmas card list.
Also, if the person I need to invite is not expecting the meeting, I will call them and give them a brief overview. It’s courteous, shows that you value their time and stops them from getting that pang of annoyance when yet another invitation pops up on their screen.
Don’t be that person
You know the one. He absolutely, just could not bear it if a discussion was had where he wasn’t able to contribute. Even if he doesn’t know enough about the topic being discussed. But who cares about the topic right? That’s just a guide, so he’ll raise some completely irrelevant, off topic considerations and of course, find a creative way to relate them back to his extensive background in banking. Usually he’s senior enough that everybody will grit their teeth, look down at the table and give him his airtime, but if anybody dare question the relevance, he responds with ‘I’m just trying to cover all the bases‘ or ‘Yes, I know it’s outside the scope of this meeting but we might have to consider it down the track.’ Trust me, you do not want the reputation of being this person.
Be on time!
It’s a vicious cycle, if everybody you are meeting is 5 minutes late, then you will start showing up 5 minutes late, then you’ll meet a new employee, whoops, 5 minutes late and basically the whole organisation has developed a culture of tardiness. Even if you have back to back meetings, it’s better to leave your first meeting early than be late for your second, if anything that conveys to the attendees of the first meeting that you are in demand! And if you are late? Apologise profusely and disproportionately to how late you actually were, so that person knows it was a genuine accident, that you value their time and you’re not likely to re-offend.
If there was a point to the meeting, there should be records to prove it
This is particularly necessary for a meaty meeting, where lots of points are discussed and action items are assigned to people. There is nothing worse than wasting an hour or two and have absolutely nothing come of it as all attendees were waiting on somebody to follow them up and the action items just fade into thin air.
As a rule of thumb, I send records of the meeting within 24 hours. I would only send Minutes if the meeting was quite formal such as a steering committee, or if the Minutes would be at least 2 pages long. In other circumstances, I would send an email thanking everybody for their time and listing out the agreed action items and key points. This is a great way to encourage accountability between stakeholders, and you never know when you’ll need to dig out the records of a meeting from two years ago to prove what had been agreed. Not only is it good risk management, others will appreciate that you are organised and can keep a project on track.
Change it up
If you meet with somebody quite often, change it up, take them out for a coffee or lunch meeting. You’re going to take a coffee break anyway right? Instantly the backdrop of the coffee shop adds a ‘networking’ element to the meeting and therefore you’re killing two birds with one stone. Your invitee will appreciate the gesture and they probably needed to get out of the office as much as you.
Also, you’ve paid for their coffee so they’re probably more willing to agree to what you need (just my wishful thinking!).
That Career Girl