Business meetings get a bad name amongst the uninformed.
For some reason, internal business meetings are polarising. Some people feel that there should be NO meetings in workplaces. Others find that they spend all day in meetings and yet are incredibly productive.
The truth is, most modern businesses do need meetings of some sort to function.
It is very much a middle ground with no extremes.
Here’s why meetings are actually important, and how you can run them effectively. Think of this as an SOP for running effective internal business meetings.
What Meetings Do Businesses Really Need?
The answer to what meetings a business needs to run depends on the type of business.
I normally advise for companies to run meetings by department or teams. For example, strategy, planning, finance, sales and marketing.
Outside of these preplanned meetings, I also strongly recommend that companies don’t hold any other internal meetings unless absolutely necessary.
I would also avoid under all circumstances a general “office meeting” as those can be replaced by other communication methods and daily standups.
The higher in seniority a team member is, the more meetings they will attend. This is because the role of senior people in an organisation is to be servant leaders, which is really about listening to others, making decisions and then supporting teams with resources to get things done. And one of the easiest ways to do all this is through meetings.
Organising Principles for Business Meetings
The principles for how to hold and run meetings are more important than the tools you use.
The purpose of meetings
We need to start with what meetings actually do, which is:
Communicate lots of information in a rapid manner over a human-to-human broadband connection.
Business Meeting objectives
Every meeting should have one of three objectives:
If a meeting doesn’t do any of these three things, then you don’t need to schedule that meeting.
Minimising meetings: Use other tools
One way to minimise meetings is to use other tools to convey the same information more efficiently.
For example, using direct messaging and group chats over a team communication tool like Slack.
Or using comments and updates across project management systems and CRMs.
Minimising meetings: All meetings on one day
Another way to minimise meetings is to hold all your meetings on one day every week.1I first learnt this from Verne Harnish.
This is a form of batching.
Here’s how you do this.
- Nominate the same day every week for your meetings. I recommend Fridays.2Monday is usually when enquires and work are piled up from the weekend, and Tuesday through Thursday should be kept intact for productive flow.
- Hold your meetings back-to-back, with set meeting times and lengths.
- Not everyone needs to attend every meeting, but your senior people likely will.
For example, say Friday is your meeting day. It may look like this:
- 8am: Strategy, 1 hour.
- 9am: Planning, 1 hour.
- 10am: Finance, 1 hour.
- 11am: Sales/Development, 1 hour.
- 1pm: Marketing, 2 hours.
The advantage of holding all your meetings on one day, is that your people will be prepared for that day in advance and know not to schedule deep work, client calls or other activities on that day.
It also gives your senior people the chance to all be present at the same time every week, so that rapid decisions can be made across all business functions. This means that issues will be solved quickly in a single day, rather than being dragged up and down the hierarchy of the business.
There are a couple of special exceptions to the “all meetings in one day” idea, which are your:
- Monthly management meetings.
- Quarterly planning meetings.
- Annual planning meetings.
- Daily huddles.
Tools for Business Meetings
Don’t let tools and technology get in the way of running effective business meetings.
All you really need is somewhere to collaboratively store, edit and share meeting agendas and minutes.
A simple wiki tool like Confluence or Tettra works perfectly well. You don’t need fancy meeting timers or segmentation functions.
If you have a remote team or distributed offices, you can use any communication tool to dial in—Slack, Microsoft Teams, Google Meet, Skype, Zoom etc.
Just make sure that everyone has a fast and stable Internet connection. And don’t do video calls unless you really have to.
Business Meeting Rules
Every company should have its own set of meeting rules and these should be written down as an SOP in their knowledge management system.
Here are some rules to start.
1. Always prepare meeting agendas and minutes
Your meeting agenda and minutes are essentially the same thing.
The agenda should be prepared by one person before the meeting, with input from others as needed. One person who will always be present at a given meeting should be given this responsibility as part of their job description.
The completed meeting minutes should be shared immediately after the meeting, along with action items.
2. Meeting roles
Every meeting should have one person leading the meeting.
This person’s responsibility is to push on with the agenda, even if others are responsible for discussing each item.
This person is also in charge of calling on volunteers when required.
This meeting leader doesn’t have to be the most senior person in the meeting.
Every meeting should also have one person acting as a scribe.
Their responsibility is to take meeting minutes.
The meeting leader and scribe should not be the same person.
3. Laptops and phones
No phones are allowed for in-person meetings, not even placed facedown on the table.
Laptops are acceptable, so long as attendees are engaged in the meeting and not working on something else. If laptops become problematic, I recommend replacing them with pen and paper during meetings.
The exceptions to this are the scribe who will need a laptop to record minutes, and the meeting leader if they use their laptop to project the agenda onto a screen.
4. Meeting times
Meetings should keep to their allocated time.
If the team gets stuck on a particular agenda item or discussion, then it is the meeting leader’s role to say “move on” and the issue can be taken offline for further discussion.
If you are finding that meetings consistently run over time, then either:
- The agenda is too long and needs to be shortened.
- The agenda is correct but the meeting time needs to be lengthened.
- People are dragging on issues. A simple but effective solution for this is to conduct your meetings standing up.
5. Embrace food
Food is fine for early morning breakfast meetings and lunchtime meetings so long as the agenda is being followed.
Coffee and beverages are always fine for meetings.
A Standard Meeting Agenda and Format
Here is a general format that can be used for all internal business meetings. Be sure to customise it for your own specific meetings.
|1||Good News/Wins||Celebrate and share wins.|
|2||Past Action Items||Review past action items.|
|3||Customer and Team Feedback||Get direct feedback from the team and market (via team).|
|4||Issue 1||Clear up to three major issue every week.|
If you do this properly, you can clear over one hundred sticking points every year.
|5||Issue 2||As above.|
|6||Issue 3||(if time)|
|7||Cascading Messaging||Note who also needs to be informed of discussion points (if not present).|
|8||One-Phrase Summary||A one sentence summary of the week, month, time period.|
|9||Action Items and Follow Ups||Actions that need to be done and who they are assigned to.|
Specific meetings will have their own specific items.
- A consultancy might have regulatory updates for their sales teams.
- A dev team might have specific issues or bugs to discuss. Or they may structure their meetings around sprint planning.
- A marketing team might have influencers to check in with weekly.
What To Do Next
You now have a very effective set of principles and structures for running internal business meetings.
If you want to find out more about how to use better systems like the one above in your business, you can read:
- How to set up your business for remote working.
- Time management for CEOs and business owners.
- A guide to strategic planning.
- How to write standard operating procedures.
- How to manage your business.
- Evolution, my free manifesto for how to take your life and business to the next level.
- I first learnt this from Verne Harnish.
- Monday is usually when enquires and work are piled up from the weekend, and Tuesday through Thursday should be kept intact for productive flow.
Photo by ThisisEngineering RAEng.