Six Ideas to Give your Meetings a Winning Edge

Meeting Agenda

As the old saying goes, time is money. And there is nothing worse than feeling like you just frittered away valuable time at a meeting that tanked for lack of a tight agenda, the key people, etc. What are the key components of a meeting we can all be proud of? A few ideas…

Keep it Small and Bring in the Key Players

Don’t invite everyone. Does this seem undemocratic? Possibly. But, this is business and time and resources are limited. Keep the group small if you need to make big decisions. Multiple voices, although important when eliciting fresh ideas and opinions, can distract from a focused gathering. Only bring in decision-makers and others key to the task at hand. Those attending the meeting can then share the take-away items with others, which brings me to the next point…

Don’t Slap It Together: Plan It

Here’s another one of those obvious points that tends to draw a blank stare and a “um, duh” reaction. And yet it is always surprising how many people prepare only a rough agenda and expect this loose agenda to generate specific outcomes. If the main objective of the gathering is to brainstorm and you are okay with a meeting that is more like a rowdy town hall hearing than a well-run business discussion, then keep the agenda relaxed. Just remember: you get what you planned for.

Visualize the Exercise and the Outcome

Professional athletes regularly visualize success. It’s a key part of their training. They mentally see themselves performing at peak levels and reaching the outcome they want. Visualization can be used in a business setting as well. No one can specifically predict what people will say or what points will be made, but you can mentally outline the scope of permissible, productive discussion and make sure it stays within the outlines of the meeting agenda. This strategy avoids situations where the meeting discussion moves into tangential and non-central topics. This leads us to the over-arching purpose of a good meeting…

Stick to the Task

As noted above, meetings should always have a tight, specific agenda. Even within the context of agile methodology, which we practice here at CivilGEO, the purpose of which is to allow a certain level of flexibility and responsiveness, the goal of the meeting needs to be defined and observed. We can digress, but only to a point. The end goals must still be achieved and, above all, we need to know what our next steps will be.

Stand Up

Have you noticed how innovative companies tend to design their open plan workspaces with mental and physical fitness in mind? These workspaces create opportunities for people to move around, enjoy more sunlight and communal spaces and, most importantly, get out of their seats! And how about the trend towards standing desks? Basically, it is clear U.S. workers spend a great deal of their time sitting, which (along with diet) has led to all sorts of health problems. A standing meeting encourages efficiency and a more energized, alert attitude (the stand-up meetings at CivilGEO bring to mind a cavalry of soldiers—ready to march into combat!). An upright employee is unlikely to become distracted and he or she is certainly unlikely to nod off!

Notes and Records

Don’t choose the big picture thinker in the group to take notes because what you need is DETAIL (and lots of it). You need to identify the main conclusions of the meeting and plug these conclusions under the main headings of the detailed agenda discussed earlier. This step ensures that the meeting reached a conclusion under each agenda item. In addition to describing in detail the main findings, the note taker needs to identify next steps as well as the individuals responsible for those next steps. Identify support people, outstanding questions, and timelines for reaching identified benchmarks. Once these notes have been drafted and reviewed by a third party, distribute them as soon as possible to those in attendance and other interested parties. As in so many fields, legal or otherwise, a written document is critical.

Ah, the beloved business meeting! Try to love them, because we certainly can’t live without them! Might as well develop a solid recipe for the kind of meeting you know will produce results. These six points give you the fundamentals.

About the Author Chris Maeder

Chris Maeder

Chris is an experienced civil engineering and software technology leader, with over 30 years industry experience. With proven expertise in global software development, he has built engineering teams that adapt quickly, focus on what’s important and, most importantly, deliver. He is a licensed professional civil engineer with extensive experience in water resource engineering. He has performed and supervised engineering projects in urban stormwater drainage, transportation and roadway drainage, storm sewer design, detention pond design, stormwater quality, green infrastructure, watershed management planning, wastewater sewers, water distribution networks, pump stations, FEMA flood studies, bridge and culvert design, bridge scour and armoring, dam failure analysis, seepage and groundwater modeling, and environmental permits.