Step 2: G – goal
Without a goal or purpose, meetings drift into pointless debates or points scoring exercises. Starting the meeting with a particular goal in mind means that it's easier to keep on track, make sure everyone gets what they need and the meeting is more likely to finish on time. Whether you're organising the meeting or attending someone else's meeting, think about what you need to get from it and how you'll know you've got what you need.
It's a bit like when you go into the kitchen, open the cupboards and see lots of ingredients in front of you. There are lots of things you could cook and unless you make a decision on what you're going to make, you can end up mixing the wrong ingredients together. Setting a goal for a meeting reminds me of following a recipe book.
Once everyone's clear about what you're cooking and you know what the dish looks like, it's easy to follow the steps to making it.
Meetings are scheduled for a variety of reasons and the commonest ones are below together with suggestions on the goal for the meeting:
- To keep 'everyone in the loop' – examples of goals: at the end of the meeting for everyone to be clear about what other people are doing and what they need to do to support; to give everyone a chance to air their thoughts and agree on which projects are to be prioritised
- To plan for a project – examples of goals: to leave the meeting with a Gantt chart showing the major activities which need to happen and when; to identify possible obstacles to the project and make a contingency plan
- To formalise decisions which have already been made – examples of goals: to do a 'sense' check on the proposed course of action and get everyone's agreement on it; to inform the rest of the group about the reasons behind the decision.
With the final point on formalising decisions, for the meeting to be productive everyone around the table needs to be aware of what the decision is. This type of meeting often backfires when only a selected number of people have been involved in the decision and present it without getting other people's input – or worse are trying to conceal the fact a decision has already been made. Unfortunately this often happens in highly political companies where certain people have closed ranks and it has the effect of singling out and embarrassing an unpopular person in front of the group if they hold an opposing view – not good for team working.
Where there are multiple goals for a meeting, the best course of action is to circulate an agenda in advance. Not only does this allow people to prepare, but it also means that it's obvious there is going to be limited time for each point before you as a group need to move on to the next one. The agenda doesn't need to be a formal document; it can be bullet points on the meeting invitation. The important point is sticking to the agenda when in the meeting and being mindful of time. If there are important topics to be discussed, don't leave them to the end of the meeting when you are likely to be running out of time. If items crop up which aren't on the agenda, agree with the group to 'park' them for another meeting or for the AOB section if there is time.