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Finding meeting utopia: what does it look like?

There it is again, that sinking feeling when yet another meeting request pops into our calendar, looming over you like impending jail time. Your sentence: a one-hour, all-hands planning session, 60+ people on the invite and the agenda doesn’t arrive in your inbox until five minutes before the call starts, leaving you little time to prepare.

You know all too well that hesitancy to “accept,” certain that as much time will go wasted as that spent on productive conversations.

Picture it now:

You arrive early to the boardroom to find a good seat, only to discover it’s cold as the North Pole and you have no idea how to turn on the heating. The sole inhabitant of the room with one minute to go, you try to wrangle as many invitees as possible, only to arrive back to the venue amid a sea of laptops, charger cables, mobile devices and other distractions. People are still piling in at five past the hour, side conversations start to run wild, it all seems to be devolving into chaos and we haven’t even dialled in yet.

Finally, able to get things rolling, you notice that half the team has their laptops open or mobile devices up, surely texting, emailing, shopping or getting a head start on that Deliveroo order for lunch.

From here on out, a myriad of things go awry, from issues dialling in remote attendees to trouble projecting the meeting agenda. Side-tracking comments derail, off-topic remarks abound, many joiners are just trying to be heard contributing with the boss on the line — whether, or not, it’s helpful is secondary.

These all too common calamities of the contemporary meeting – remote or onsite – perpetuate a view of these vehicles of group productivity as often having an altogether opposite outcome. However, there’s no denying that meetings are a crucial function of business, as they allow teams to collaborate, share and learn in real time — in or out of the workplace.

A recent article, looks at the key contributing elements that affect each meeting’s overall effectiveness — across the physical, procedural, temporal and personal. The alignment or mismanagement of any of these can either enhance a meeting or send it into disarray.

Taking each of these aspects into consideration, how can we prepare for optimal results? Well, we constructed our own “ideal meeting room” and here’s what we consider the four foundational pieces to the success or downfall of any meeting:

The room

This is often the more overlooked of the four. Physical aspects such as the seating, room temperature, lighting and even access to refreshments, can influence meeting productivity.

Find a room that fits the size of your crowd, has working air conditioning, good lighting, and the like. Will there be presentations? Make sure the room is set up to display and share with anyone joining remotely. Even the type of seats you choose can affect comfort and therefore contributions.

The people

Trying to calm a room of nattering co-workers can be a fruitless task – especially when the numbers grow. This is why Amazon has a “two pizza rule” in their office. If that’s not enough to feed the group, you’ve got too many in attendance. The purpose: only invite the people who are essential.

Inviting those that are most crucial, is a quick fix against meetings turning into free-for-all of idea lobbing, or other opinions and comments that don’t materialise to much. Decide when it’s best to have management joining junior staff, and vice versa. Pick your attendees with a Moneyball mindset – the best group to achieve a winning outcome.

The technology

In the room, or over the phone, this is an equally crucial element. Anything from charging ports, devices in use, software compatibility and more come into play.

Remote meetings, in particular, are dependent on the tech used for bridging the gap created when you’re not all able to join together in a physical space. If joining your remote meeting is anything less than a seamless experience, it will create friction (and sometimes embarrassment) between local attendees and virtual guests.

The time

It’s almost scary how much time we spend in meetings. When they are spent inefficiently, millions in resources and revenue can go wasted.

Build in a five-minute buffer to remind attendees of how long is left to ensure you don’t overrun. If you find people going off topic, bring them back to the task at hand with phrases like “That’s great and we’ll pick it up offline, but let’s continue to tackle our current discussion.”

You may never experience a meeting that goes off without a single hiccup or the occasional fiasco. But by working to anticipate productivity interrupters, you can guide them to optimal output and results. Over the next few weeks we’ll look at each of these elements above in more detail, to help you do just that with tips and tricks to stay ahead of the game.

For other posts in this series, read:

You can also follow us on Twitter and LinkedIn for other updates and best practices around remote meetings and collaboration.

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