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Stress Free Meetings by Carthage Buckley

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Meetings are often used within business to solve problems. If used effectively, meetings are a fantastic tool for solving problems. If they are not managed effectively, meetings can create more problems than they solve. Poorly managed meetings regularly run over time, fail to stick to the agenda, result in unnecessary disputes and can be a general source of stress. These factors mean that many people dread meetings or come up with an excuse not to attend.

The solution is to focus on creating stress-free meetings. Stress-free meetings solve a specific issue in the minimum time required, causing the minimum disruption to the attendees. Once you have implemented stress-free meetings, people will be happy to give up their time to attend and contribute.

12 Tips for stress-free meetings

The following tips will help you to create stress-free meetings which invitees are eager to attend:

1. Only meet when necessary

Too often, people have meetings for the sake of having meetings. If there are not any issues to be resolved or important information to be delivered, then a meeting is usually unnecessary. Before arranging a meeting, take a look at the objectives of the meeting and ask yourself ‘Could this be dealt with by email?’ If the answer is yes, forget the meeting and send the email.

2. Set a strict agenda

It is tempting to try to solve all the companies’ problems in one meeting but it is not possible. Meetings work best when they focus on one main topic or area of the business. Keep the agenda narrow and focused. Set specific beginning and end times for each item on the agenda and make sure that everybody understands exactly what the meeting is about.

3. Only invite those who need to be there

You are not the only one with a hectic schedule. You need to be respectful of other people’s time.  The objectives of the meeting are important to you but that does not mean that they are important to everyone. People who are required to attend a meeting, which is unimportant to them, resent being there and resent the person who invited them. They can often become disruptive by dragging the conversation off track or making comments on issues that they do not fully understand.

4. Offer options

Make sure that it is acceptable for non-essential attendees to decline your meeting request e.g. you can arrange to copy them in on the minutes. Alternatively, they may only need to be there for part of the meeting. If so, arrange for them to attend that part and leave afterwards. As you will have set specific times for each item on the agenda, this will be easy to arrange. They will be grateful for your attempts to facilitate them.

5. Appoint a strong chairperson

An agenda is only as good as the person who enforces it. Appoint a strong chairperson who will make sure that people stick to the point and that the agenda is strictly adhered to.

6. Send the minutes of the previous meeting in Advance

Valuable meeting time can be wasted by arguments over the minutes of the previous meeting. If you pre-distribute the minutes, you can require people to raise any objections prior to the meeting, where they can be handled without disrupting the meeting. Then, the minutes can be read swiftly, and agreed to, at the beginning of the meeting, allowing you to move onto to the agenda.

7. Agree a group contract

For long meetings or regular meetings, agree a group contract beforehand. This sets out how people are expected to behave and communicate, along with the process for handling disputes. All attendees can be required to agree to it before the meeting.

The most effective way to do this is for the organiser, or chairperson, to draft a contract and send it to all attendees, allowing them to raise any objections they may have. If no objections are made, attendance will be viewed as agreement.

8. Set up working groups

Meetings are often dragged off track when discussions about minor issues on the agenda escalate. Where it becomes apparent that the issue needs to be tackled, it is better to set up a working group to tackle it, and then get back to the agenda. The working group can then meet separately, prior to the next meeting, and report back with their conclusions.

9. Schedule Breaks

If it is anticipated that the meeting is going to last a while, breaks should be built into the timetable. If attendees know when they are going to be able to have their toilet break, make a phone call, send an email or have a cigarette; they are less likely to pop in and out of the meeting. Instead, they are likely to give their full attention.

10. Refreshments

For longer meetings, it is essential that there are refreshments available for those in attendance. People who are thirsty, or hungry, lack concentration and are likely to make less valuable contributions.

11. Stand up

If you are aiming to keep the meeting brief, you might consider requiring the attendees to stand up. This prevents them from getting too comfortable. As nobody likes to stand for too long, they will be motivated to keep to the point. If the meeting is long, it can help to allow people to stand up and move around the room. This will help them to stay alert.

12. Have an effective wrap up process

At the end of the meeting, summarise the main points and inform the attendees of the date of the next meeting. At the first opportunity, distribute the minutes of the meeting and request agenda items for the next meeting. Don’t forget to set a closing date for submissions for the agenda of the next meeting.

Conclusion

If they are not managed effectively, meetings can create a lot more problems than they solve. Confusion, arguments and stress can occur as a result of badly organised meetings. The alternative is stress-free meetings. Stress-free meetings solve problems with the minimum of inconvenience.  With stress-free meetings, you get attendees who are motivated to be there and have a valuable contribution to make. At the end of the meeting, these people are glad that they attended. They leave with a sense of progress and achievement. If your meetings are unproductive and stressful, it is time that you focused on creating stress-free meetings. The 12 steps listed above will help you to create the effective, productive and enjoyable meetings which everybody wants to attend.

Carthage Buckley is a Stress and Performance Coach with Coaching Positive Performance. Carthage has more than 10 years international experience working with entrepreneurs, executives and ambitious professionals; helping them to eliminate stress and maximize performance.

Write a More Effective Meeting Agenda

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The key to a great meeting starts with proper preparation and ends with thoughtful follow up. While it sounds like an easy task, why do we still have meetings that run long, go off-topic, and feel unorganized?

Most of these problems can be pinned to poor agendas (or worse, no agenda at all!). Here’s our guide to creating a better agenda for more effective meetings:

Why send a meeting agenda?

  • They let people know what to expect before the meeting gets started. This eliminates time wasting discussions that try to figure out what the meeting is really about.
  • They give others time to read materials and prepare for the meeting. This pre-meeting period creates a more engaged/educated group from the very start.
  • They keep meetings on topic. If someone brings up a subject that does not fit with the meeting objective, simply ‘cut it out’.

What’s included in the meeting agenda?

  • In your calendar invite, define a purpose for the meeting that addresses what you’re trying to accomplish.
    • The purpose should coincide with your team’s objectives, if not… why meet?
  • Come up with 3-5 important topics that can be efficiently covered in the allocated time.
    • This will help guide meeting discussion without trying to squeeze too much in or meet longer than necessary.
  • Let content dictate how much time to schedule, not vice versa.
    • Set time limits on each topic to stay on track.
      • Ex: “Social Media Strategy…….. 15 minutes”
  • Assign a note-taker to send out important notes, action items and key decisions. This helps keep everyone in the loop and documents upcoming tasks for more accountability.
  • Send the calendar invite 3 days to a week in advance to ensure people get ample time to review the agenda and prepare for the meeting.

 What other agenda tips work for your team?

Good Habits Start With Your Team

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One morning you woke up and decided to take action against all the activities in your life that were unnecessarily taking up your time. So, you made a hot cup of coffee and began reading ‘Getting Things Done‘ with the intention of adding time back to your day and improving your process for maximizing efficiency.

After a few short weeks, you were on top of the world- free of stress and a lot more motivated to do the things you actually needed to do.

Unfortunately, the story didn’t end there. As time went on, it became harder to actually stick with your plan. While it became you against the unproductive world- life got busier, work became more stressful and your once mighty plan dwindled away. You slowly went back to sitting in unnecessary meetings, tasks began piling up and the rest of the company worked longer hours just to stay afloat.

Stay On Track For Better Meetings

What derailed your productivity plan? Quite simply, there was no support system in place. Sure, it’s great to be efficient by yourself, but no matter how hard you try, unless the rest of the work place is also implementing best practices and motivated to accomplish the same team objectives, it can be very easy to fall off the productivity horse and into a pile of bad habits.

From little league baseball to political revolutions, we are taught about the power of people coming together. The business world is no different- collaboration and team adoption goes a long way in changing poor habits and instituting positive change across an organization.

Why Use Less Meeting As a Team?

Individual users are able to use Less Meeting to effectively revamp an outdated meeting process, but using it with the whole team has some clear advantages:

1) Easily share information with your team, all in one place

  • No more share sites where folders get messy and space is limited. You can assign tasks, highlight key decisions, and have it all saved in one convenient place. Whether you are on the road (with our mobile app) or don’t have internet access (in offline mode), you can take/share notes with your entire team.

2) Sync actions items across the rest of the team for increased accountability

  • The idea of assigning a task is great, but we often spend too much time making sure our coworkers are actually doing it. How can they still be reminded without you feeling like a nag or wasting precious time? Set email reminders and look back at meeting minutes to determine who has to do what and when. No more excuses. Everything is shared across the team, and everyone knows exactly what needs to get done.

3) Team reporting

  •  See how people are spending their time. Monitor how many minutes are dedicated to meeting each week and set goals to reduce that time spent using our scoring guides.

4) Anyone can take notes.

  • Only having one full time note taker makes meeting very difficult when they are out of the office or sick. When coworkers switch taking notes, it establishes a shared responsibility and motivates individuals to take better notes and actually read them.
  • Double booked across two meetings? No problem, more licenses means no more scheduling conflicts if more than one person is using it at once.

5) Easily send meeting minutes to only team members, vendors, or clients.

  • When you are taking notes, putting together an attendance list can be tedious, especially with a lot of invitees involved. Now you can just send those notes with a single click to only team members in attendance, rather than every member in the meeting. This makes sharing notes internally very easy and protects meeting notes from getting into the wrong hands (clients, prospects, etc.)- unless of course you want to!

6) Recurring meetings can be referenced by everyone.

  • Remember what we talked about in that last status meeting? Me neither. Check Less Meeting to see exactly what was discussed so that you can come prepared to build off last week’s progress.

7) Parking lot for future meetings with team members.

  • Put discussion items that aren’t on topic in the parking lot. This keeps meetings on track and allows members to address the off topic (but great ideas!) in the next meeting.

How Can I get my Team On Board?

It’s hard to teach an old dog new tricks, but it certainly can be done- especially when the simplicity and benefits far outweigh the skepticism.

Here are a few tips for better team meetings:

1) Start using the tool
  • You cansign up for a free trial anytime. When others see how nice the meeting minutes look and how pre-written agendas really help the meeting flow, heads will start turning.

2) Find another advocate who may be willing to try it out

  • The more people using it, the better. Perhaps there is someone else who is interested in addressing the meeting problem at your work, send them a free trial and test it out together.

3) Measure meeting statistics

  • Show meeting scores and measure how much time is actually being spent inside meetings. When people see how much time they could actually be saving, they may realize poor meetings may be a bigger problem than they originally thought.

4) Highlight the key features that are current pain points for your team.

  • Is a lot of time wasted because there is no agenda? Show them the agenda. Is there a problem with getting team members to accomplish tasks on time? Show them how to assign tasks and set up reminders.

5) Show the simplicity of the product.

  • Less Meeting takes less than a minute to set up. People are already familiar with scheduling meetings, taking notes, and trying to send them out. Showing how Less Meeting seamlessly integrateswith that process, but simply makes it more efficient.

We’re more than happy to schedule a team demo to show all the useful features of the tool. If your team wants to learn more about how Less Meeting can change your meeting culture, please contact us here.