As discussed in Protect your schedule, you should always try to take into account your preferences when it comes to scheduling meetings.
But obviously, it is not always possible. When a meeting is urgent or when a participant cannot meet your schedule preferences, you should be flexible.
Because most meetings do not have a precise agenda, meetings take place without a clear direction.
It is the meeting organizer’s responsibility to set an agenda. It does not have to be a long explanation but simply describing the issue and provide a bit of background along with a clear set of goals.
For meetings involving many participants and/or several topics, it is crucial to more precisely define the agenda with the list of subjects to discuss, the decision objectives and time allocation for every topic.
This will help frame the discussion while helping participants think about a potential solution ahead of time.
The agenda should be shared a few days prior for participants to get familiar with the material.
The value of meetings is to get a group of smart people to exchange at the same time in order to solve a problem.
In other words, meetings are interesting to leverage thought synergies.
Why is then so much time spent explaining the issue even though the participants could have read that information beforehand?
After reading the book Startup Boards: Getting the Most Out of Your Board of Directors, it became clear to me that board and team meetings alike should all be run in two steps.
The first step should be asynchronous. The organizer should write and share a short document summarizing the agenda along with some explanation on the key points.
The participants must read this document before the meeting and comment on the various points, asking questions and clarifications.
This first step allows the participants to better refine the core issue and perhaps already answer some of the points. It also creates more engagement from all the stakeholders.
The second step is the meeting itself which is synchronous. During the meeting, the goal is to use the brain power in the room and focus on finding a solution to the refined issue rather than spending time updating everybody about the topic at hand.
Because organizing a meeting is such a pain, organizers try to reduce the effort as much as possible to get on with their life.
As a result, people tend to invite all the stakeholders they can think of, putting the effort on the invitee to figure out if they are actually required in this meeting.
It is your responsibility, as the organizer, to limit the number of people in the meeting. First, it will greatly increase the quality of the exchanges and the involvement of the participants.
It is easier to hide in a forest than behind a single tree...
Secondly, people will be grateful and therefore more willing to add value to the meetings they are invited to.
It does not mean people should be shielded from the conversations and decisions. See the chapter Always follow up for more information.