Should Your Meetings Have a ‘Type’? The Short Answer Is: Yes.

In a previous post, we talked about how a meeting is more productive if it is focused on a particular point. Drilling down to a specific topic with an expected outcome or deliverable at the end helps to keep the agenda clear, the meeting short, and more fruitful.

Expanding on that first tip for productive meetings, as chair / leader, you need to figure out what type of meeting you want to have before you even set it up. This decision will help you to create the agenda, the attendee list, and limit scope creep, which tends to happen when the topic isn’t focused.

Here are a few ‘types’ of meetings, under broad category headers, and how you can leverage them more effectively:

The meeting where decisions are made

The outcome of this kind of meeting is clear, so when you’re choosing this as the type of meeting you need to set up, you’re working backwards from the deliverable. That said, there are ways that the meeting can go wrong:

  • The wrong people are invited: people who aren’t empowered to make a decision or people who shouldn’t be part of the decision.
  • The attendees don’t arrive at the meeting prepared to make a decision, whether that is:
    – because they didn’t take the time to prepare or,
    – they were not provided with the data / information required to make a decision, in advance.

Either way, they haven’t thought through the decision or its consequences and might derail the meeting into a discussion about the topic, resulting in no decision at the end.

These perils can be avoided by ensuring that everyone has the information they require and perhaps—if it’s a mission / project critical decision—even having the meeting chair take the time to check in with each attendee separately to make sure they are informed and prepared.

Status update and specific problem solving meetings fall under this same header in that a specific group of people are brought together for the purposes of informing, coming to and perhaps ratifying decisions. Preparedness is vital for these meetings as well, so that time isn’t wasted in bringing everyone up to speed but rather outlining some of what they already know, filling in gaps where necessary, with the outcome being that everyone is on the same page.

Meetings where ideas are shared

Brainstorming meetings are essential in any project environment. Innovation demands that team members are provided with a time and a place where no idea is stupid and everyone’s input is welcomed. That said, these meetings still need to be focused as to scope. A meeting that has the agenda: “Figure out a way to make more money” is going to go off the rails quickly.

For brainstorming meetings to be effective, you need to make sure that you have a strong chair who can get everyone back on topic when needed and who will assign action items to ideas with merit so that there is a follow through, rather than just ending with a lot of ideas and no ‘next steps’.

The environment for these meetings needs to be particularly positive and judgment free, so that people feel safe contributing ideas. You might even consider taking them off site to a new location: sometimes a change of a scenery can do wonders for creative thinking! Just make sure it’s not a distracting environment that inhibits participants.

Team building meetings can fall under this category too. They are intended to encourage communication and growth, without necessarily creating a specific outcome. The point is the journey. If there are actionable items that come out of a team building exercise, so much the better!

Meetings where attendees are educated

Informational meetings are all about informing and educating attendees on a topic that is new to them. Rather than sharing information via email, getting attendees together in a room allows the opportunity for feedback, questions and, in general, a two way conversation.

While the point of informational meetings is to educate attendees, the format of the meeting doesn’t have to be a one-sided seminar. Engagement is improved by making the session interactive. This can be improved by ensuring that the speaker creates opportunities to ask questions or for attendees to participate in some way.

It’s once again important to ensure that the topic is succinct and clear to everyone attending and that those invited actually have a need of this information. There’s nothing worse than presenting information that isn’t germane to the roles attendees play in the organization. It’s a waste of their time and yours!

Figuring out your intent for a meeting before setting out an agenda and inviting people is essential. It’s like the thesis statement of an essay: the type of meeting selected sets out the tone, style, format and expected results of the meeting, making planning it that much easier!