As social creatures, we love to congregate, thus it’s no surprise that we have an average of 8 meetings per week, according to Ovum research. Unfortunately, as Elon Musk once dictated in a company email, “excessive meetings are the blight of big companies” – oh dear.
Although there are three principal kinds of meeting – tactical, operational, and strategic – there’s quite a few more structures. The exact format used has a huge impact on the effectiveness of these get-togethers.
Meetings differ in terms of who attends them, how often they occur, and their aforementioned types, yet the overriding purpose is to plan, discuss and resolve issues. Finding the right meeting structure will increase a team’s productivity, and with it their morale.
There are many meeting structures for great results, but here’s five to get you started. BTW: You can do many of these asynchronously in Friday, more on that later!
A huddle, or stand-up, meeting is a vital point of contact between leaders and their teams, the daily chance for colleagues to update one another before moving forward. Typically, they are scheduled consistently, meaning they occur at the same or a similar time. However, you can organize impromptu meetings, providing they’re still a valuable use of time.
As these meetings are quite intimate, it’s important that the number of attendees is capped at the team level. This could either relate to a department or specific project. Huddles have their own personality based on the team, so make them engaging by appealing to group preferences.
How to use them: The most essential component for stand-ups is that they remain relatively brief and repeat consistently. These meetings are best held in the morning to set pace and give direction for the day ahead.
A “round-robin tournament” is one in which all competitors have a chance to play against one another. In meeting terms, therefore, it’s a democratic system of ensuring all members get their say, usually on each topic on the agenda. Do note, though, people can pass their turn if they don’t feel able to contribute.
What you gain in fairness, you lose in speed. When there’s a long list of speaking points, a round-robin meeting is time-consuming. However, a savvy leader may find ways to increase efficiency, either by having a speaking time limit or limiting the number of topics.
How to use them: Round-robin meetings are an excellent option for creative discussion, namely brainstorming or otherwise developing ideas.
The ancient Greeks adored their agora, the central space for public buildings and civilized discussion. The Romans, loving an opportunity to steal from their neighbors, ran with the idea and called it the forum. Today, that term simply means a place, or medium, where issues can be discussed, and ideas exchanged.
An open forum meeting follows the exact same principles. Unlike round-robins, attendees are free to propose topics – hence ‘open’ – by calling out, or raising a hand. They too can be time-consuming, as you’re giving everyone an opportunity to speak. However, they are great for getting a sense of perspectives and attitudes.
How to use them: In Friday, you can do this via Posts. Take the conversation out of Slack and provide more context with Posts. Then you can brainstorm and add ideas right inside the comments. Posts are great for brainstorming, either in person or asynchronous on a message board. They’re also good for gauging the feelings of team members, by using them to get feedback.
You may consider committee meetings to be formal affairs in town halls, but you can take the same philosophy and apply it to all kinds of contexts. In business meetings, committee style just means members discuss issues in small groups before reporting back as a whole. This fashion of meeting ensures that everyone on the team has input and/or is represented.
Committees can cover pretty much anything, so the key thing is having a suitable number of members. 35% of us consider having too many people in the room to be a key factor of meeting failure, if you look at the 2019 Doodle research. Amazon mogul Jeff Bezos believes you should be able to feed meeting members with no more than two pizzas, his aptly named ‘two pizza rule.’
How to use them: These meetings are typically used for decision-making, choosing the best approach/action to take. Steering committees typically feature advice or guidance from people not directly involved with a project.
In a fishbowl meeting, there are two circles, inner and outer. The inner circle contains members actively discussing, whilst the outer circle is made up of spectators. The catch (if you’ll pardon the fish pun) is whenever someone on the outskirts has something to contribute, they can replace a member of the inner circle, the ‘fishbowl’.
In the Musk email above, he also encouraged his staff to “walk out of a meeting… as soon as it is obvious you aren’t adding value.” This is one huge advantage of fishbowl structure, as people are not pressured to stay if they can’t contribute. This kind of interactivity (or maybe even gamification) is an engaging fresh contrast to traditional stuffiness.
How to use them: As fishbowls are really just a fun way of cycling participants, you can use them however you please. People usually feel more comfortable speaking in smaller groups, so they’re especially effective within cross-functional collaboration, where the risk of many people fighting for the spotlight is higher.
None of them, and all of them. The effectiveness of meeting structure will vary depending on a number of things. Firstly, the type of discussion to be had, which may be progress-checking, decision-making, problem-solving or even team building. Other factors like team preferences and company culture can also determine the most productive meeting structures.
Generally speaking, a successful structure is one that allows all participants to contribute insights and opinions. In this sense, there is no one perfect meeting structure that suits all scenarios.
In fact, you should keep in mind that not every meeting is even worth having. It’s often more appropriate to hold asynchronous meetings (on Friday!) to avoid wasting time pointlessly gathering.
Jordan Walker, founder of Yac -- a voice-messaging platform – argues that “teams have a much better time updating one another asynchronously.”
There is also the potential to have too many meetings, meaning that something drastic needs to be done… absolutely nothing.
Taking a break from relentless meetups, the so-called no-meeting day, is brilliant for alleviating an over scheduled, hence annoyed, team. It’s a single day of the week where people can truly power up their productivity, uninterrupted and unencumbered!
Regardless of the structure you adopt, or related ideology, there’s still much work to be done to ensure an effective team meeting. Meet the criteria and you’ll have people clambering to get to your get-togethers!
Having a facilitator is obviously needed to control and direct a meeting. However, they’re also vital for mediating parties, ensuring everyone is contributing and/or represented, and swift conflict resolution.
The facilitator should be neutral, ensuring that all participants are treated equitably and no one dominates. This can be accomplished by asking questions, summarizing what has been said, or simply calling on people for their input.
An orchestra without its conductor may very well be able to play something quite lovely, yet there's a greater chance they’ll lose track of where they are, ending up with a terrible racket and some squabbling soloists. A meeting facilitator, much like a maestro, aims to create an environment in which everyone flourishes and plays nicely together.
In 2019, a Doodle study saw 72% of people reporting that ‘clear objectives’ were the most crucial element for meeting success. Although it’s not particularly surprising that you need a decent reason to arrange a meeting, millions find themselves in aimless discussions daily.
The simple way to rectify this issue is to have a proper agenda, containing explicit objectives and outcomes. It should include an overview of the topics to be discussed, along with specific action items for each topic.
If you’re planning a sales meeting, you’re probably fine to leave accounting off the guest list. Likewise, dealings with management strategy should be inclusive for all related reps and heads, but needn’t bother Jackie from I.T., unless of course she is the tech chief.
Of course, once you’ve got everyone in one place, ensure that you hear them all, too. Back in 2016, Harvard Business Review found that only a mere 35% of participants felt able to make contributions throughout. They recommend proactively turning to quieter members to elicit their thoughts and ideas.
It’s all well and good being ambitious, but if airy suggestion doesn’t become objective and outcome, how can anyone be expected to know what they’re doing? MindTools, the career management specialists, recommend you “list all tasks that are generated at the meeting [and] make a note of who is assigned to do what, and by when.”
Putting the actual tasks and assignees on a centralized forum (Posts with Friday) will help words become action. Alternatively, include the information within a larger meeting summary doc. It doesn’t need to be fancy, just something informative that can easily be accessed.
Speaking of meeting notes, they’re also pretty fantastic at helping everyone relate back to prior occasions. This is crucial for both feedback and a sense of achievement. If members feel their work is contributing towards set goals, they feel satisfied and appreciated.
It is largely the facilitator’s responsibility to bridge between what was previously covered and today’s agenda (and even future meetings, too). Still, having a written record of meeting decisions allows everyone to effectively track progress and call back to earlier issues.
Lack of organization is a common culprit for the discouraging meeting. This pertains to a number of things, including having no advance materials, a bad meeting structure or making last minute changes.
Punctuality is a reflection of organization, so it’s critical for the facilitator to have everything ready on time. Time-management, also, is a measure of this skill, so the leader has a duty to set the pace.
According to Attentiv, meetings are most frequently between 31 and 60 minutes, though whether or not that’s necessary is another matter entirely. You’d be amazed at how focused a team can be when they aren’t burdened with meetings that drag on and on.
One Clarizen study found that 35% of meeting attendees called them “a waste of my time,” so much so that half of them said they would rather take a trip to the DMV or literally watch paint dry. If you don’t keep things concise, you can quickly lose the attention of the team, and their respect soon after.
Meeting structure isn’t everything. Leaders still need to follow the essentials of a successful business meeting, the checklist that protects against a disorganized mess of wasted time, which ultimately infuriates people.
Be the team that doesn’t add to the estimated $399 billions of lost revenue from purposeless meetings within U.S. companies. Master meeting structures, know when to use (or lose) them, and watch the Monday morning stand-up turn from dreary to cheery!