You can connect people to your meetings by varying your meeting styles as appropriate. Rather than having a meeting where everyone comes in, sits down, and settles into their chair for a meeting that can drag on, kick up the energy and interest in your meetings by offering something different.
How Much Time?
We get into habits when it comes to meetings, and this includes scheduling an hour of time that everyone has free in their schedule. Instead, decide whether the points on the agenda really require that much time. Give people the time they need, and then wind the meeting up. If you can get everything accomplished in 30 minutes, just schedule 30 minutes. If more things come up during the meeting, you’ll have to plan another meeting.
Arrange an Open House
If you are having a hard time getting people together but need their input, book a conference room as usual. Then let participants know that within a certain window (perhaps two to three hours) they need to stop by the room and leave their comments on a certain issue. They can create comments on a white board or sticky notes. People do not just have to pass through the room once: they can leave their comments for others and then circle back through the room later to see what others have said, make rebuttals, vote, or comment.
Sometimes you don’t need everyone at the table at the same time, and the beauty of this approach is that you are able to work with other people’s time and they can still all take part.
You could also arrange an electronic version of this by setting up a shared board, document, or wiki.
Just because you lead a particular team does not mean that you have to chair all of the meetings. People get engaged and can flex their own leadership abilities if you give up some control, and have them set the agenda, distribute it, schedule, and then chair the meeting.
Some meetings are really short affairs, but if you let everyone settle into a seat and arrange their notebooks and coffee cups, you know that it is going to take much longer than needed. Set up standing meetings instead. You can remove the chairs from the conference room to facilitate this. Let them know ahead of time that there will not be a presentation or slide show so that they don’t bring their laptops. Make use of the space for some quick conversation, catch up or collaboration, and then move on with the day. This style will keep you on track and lasts only about as long as people are willing or able to stand and bear it. If you go on for too long, don’t be surprised when they walk out.
If you are planning your meeting and you realize that you can do it in 15 or perhaps 30 minutes, arrange a stand-up meeting. You can expect that participants will participate in an accelerated manner since they cannot disengage in their seats, and things should move quickly.
As a variation, we’ve heard about teams who are working on fitness at the same time and will hold their meetings while walking up the stairs. Participants have one flight (or two or three as you establish) of stairs to make their point. Groups need to be kept small so that everyone can hear the person speaking, and you’ll have the added benefit of exercise to your meeting.
Another way to disengage people in meetings is to rely on PowerPoint to tell your story. Eliminate it from meetings when you can, or at least apply the rules of Presentation Zen taught by leaders like Garr Reynolds, which relies on design and graphics instead of squished text.
Instead of telephone conferences, leverage the number of smartphones or social network users and have virtual meetings using the tools that they know and love, and are using anyway. You may learn a few things. As well, you can control the length of time the meeting lasts, as well as create a record of what took place.
We have all kinds of techniques at our disposal to help groups work through problems, consider ideas, and actually participate in meetings, but in our experience, we often don’t make use of them. Proper use of brainstorming, mind mapping, brain writing, fishbone, and much more can really enhance the problem solving process and move a team forward. Use these techniques in a purposeful way so that you can make the most of them.