Meetings are a universal truth of the workplace. But not every meeting is worthwhile, and nearly all meetings could be more productive.
If you've ever looked around a room and have seen colleagues texting instead of engaging, or have broken the flow of conversation while searching for content, or were disrupted by a remoter who forgot to mute, or watched an initiative die on the vine after waiting days or even weeks for meeting materials to circulate, you're in a position to uncover productivity. As we look forward to a new business year, it's a great moment to rethink the way we meet, communicate, and collaborate to improve business outcomes.
Start by examining the basics of your meetings: the who / what / when / why / how. Are all the meetings necessary? Do they have the right stakeholders in them? Is the agenda clear? Is technology helping or hindering the meeting flow? Are people engaged and contributing? Do we have the right tools and information at our fingertips? Are we wasting time? Are outcomes clear? Examine your assumptions; see if they still hold up. Now might be the perfect time to change things up.
Here are some actions to consider:
Be clear with the agenda. Know why you're meeting, and share that purpose right in the calendar invite. Make the agenda and objectives to achieve available in the meeting, and revisit it at the end of the meeting to see that you've covered off on everything intended. Keep meetings from meandering off topic, and don't ever be afraid to end a meeting early.
Use video. Meetings are conversations and collaborations. (Otherwise, you could probably just send an email directive and be done with it.) For connecting with collaborators in other office locations or with remoters, just making a switch from audio-only to video-enabled teleconferencing will improve comprehension and get people more engaged. Suddenly you can see and not just hear the people you're working with, and participants are less likely to be distracted by other work when they're in a video-enabled meeting.
Know that content is king. This is often the most inadequately utilized asset of your meeting. Whether database outputs, dashboards, slides, spreadsheets, video streams, docs, charts, timelines, images, apps, screen captures, or live feeds, we're all working with information and lots of it in a myriad of form factors. The companies that get the most out of their workforce through collaboration are making content a full participant to the meeting. It should be dynamic, agile, available in real-time, visible to all, re-organized at will. The team is dramatically more engaged when all the critical information can be seamlessly contributed by all participants, in the room and remotely. When it is easy for meeting participants to share content, and when team members can bring up multiple content streams simultaneously to see information visually side-by-side, insights are surfaced and outcomes are clear.
Maximize flow. You know from experience that the best ideas and action plans don't come out of one-way presentations, they come out of great conversations where people feel free to contribute, comment, and collaborate. Look at the barriers to flow in your current meeting habits, and mitigate them. Technologies have improved enormously in the last few years, from one-click calendaring, to wireless screen sharing, to large pixel-rich work surfaces, to device-agnostic multi-stream capabilities, to multi-user control of the workspace regardless of location. With these latest advancements, we're finally at a point, technology wise, where the focus of meetings can again be on the people and the work at hand, instead of the logistics of the meeting process. With great flow comes that great exhilaration of getting real work done together, in the moment.
Enable space. With so much of our vital work content and output wrapped up in our individual machines, it's important to make our meeting spaces - from labs, to huddle rooms, to conference rooms, to innovation centers - equipped with the technology conducive to collaboration, allowing participants to connect and accomplish meeting agendas easily. When spaces can flex to meet the needs of the team (e.g., for brainstorm, scrum, status, interview, briefing, strategy session, global summit) with the right tools to bridge analog and digital workflows, and capture the most salient meeting assets, the space becomes an enabler of better business outcomes.
Meeting room technology, both on-premise (typical for superior security) and cloud-based (useful for mobile workers) has improved substantially in the last 3 years. It does a better job now of prioritizing collaboration over presentation, flexing to the demands of the team, and enabling new kinds of meeting democracy that prioritize contribution over hierarchy. Companies that have taken advantage of this advanced technology are discovering a great competitive advantage in their marketplace.
About the Author: Lilian Bories is VP Marketing at Oblong Industries, makers of the Mezzanine platform for visual collaboration, which is transforming the meeting process for work groups at companies like IBM, PwC, Holder, and NASA.