consider a meeting checklist

I recently finished The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande, which focuses on creating and implementing medical checklists for surgical procedures to increase success rates. It’s interesting timing since this week I attended a training on Leading Effective Meetings, essentially based around a checklist.

Although not life-saving, the meeting checklist is certainly time-saving – for yourself, your colleagues, and the organization as a whole. Here it is in full:

BEFORE

  • Do I really need to call a meeting?
  • Am I clear on the purpose of the meeting?
  • Have I thought through who needs to be there?
  • Have I considered the best time, place and other logistics?
  • Do I have a clear agenda?
  • Have I sent out effective meeting notifications?
  • Have I planned how I will lead the meeting step-by-step?
  • Have I planned how I will manage meeting “derailers?”

DURING

  • Am I following my step-by-step meeting plan?
  • Am I managing “derailers” to keep the meeting on track and on-time?
  • ¬†Are decisions, action items and open issues being documented?

AFTER

  • Have minutes been distributed?
  • Have I followed up on my own commitments to meeting members?

Now that you have a snapshot of the meeting checklist, I’ll comment on a few relevant to my experience at Stanford. In the training, our facilitator stated that the average worker is in meetings 5.5 hours per week, so poorly run meetings can be a huge wasted expense for companies in terms of salary. I’ve time tracked an average work week for myself and I can be in meetings between 10-20 hours, depending on the time of year. I know you are now wondering how I get anything done, but let’s move onto some tips…

Thinking about the purpose of your meeting is so important.

It’s easy to be complacent and continue to attend standing meetings without wondering if they are still effective or why they exist. When I get invited to random meetings and I’m not sure why I’m there, I don’t hesitate to go back to the meeting organizer to find out the purpose. As an aside, how much time do you actually need for it? I have a regular meeting for reunions I attend, and I find we expand to fill the time allotted. Sometimes our 30 minute meetings feel much more focused and useful.

Who need to be there?

Have you ever attended a meeting and the clear decision maker is late or not present? It’s such a frustrating experience because the group can go nowhere without basic information from this key person…and it essentially leads to another meeting. It’s important to make sure that key stakeholders/decision makers are present for particular meetings. And if you have someone in the room just as an FYI, let him/her know it’s optional. I have yet to meet a person who doesn’t want an hour back.

Did you plan the meeting?

If I’m running a meeting, you had better believe that I put 10-45 minutes into planning that time wisely. A one-hour meeting with 6 people is 6 hours of organizational time. It’s worth the investment to consider your goals and it’s respectful to your colleagues’ time. It’s obvious to most people in the room when the meeting organizer hasn’t brought an agenda or clear outcomes to the table, and also frustrating.

Meeting Minutes

My two cents on minutes is that they are essential for project meetings and not in a long form. Honestly, if someone sends you two pages of notes, are you going to read them? And…if it’s an attachment and not in the body of the e-mail, forget about it – that’s an extra click! The best kinds of minutes come out within 48 hours and just include bulleted lists of decisions, topics discussed (overall) and action items with the assigned person. They shouldn’t take more than 10-15 minutes to type up, and brevity increased the chances that your meeting attendees will actually read them.

Follow up

After a meeting takes place, when I see co-workers actually follow up on their action items, that separates the wheat from the chaff in the workplace. It shouldn’t be impressive since that’s our job, but nowadays with overflowing work plates, getting deliverables to colleagues before a deadline can be a rarity. I usually have a side column on my agenda with my to dos. Some of those are from the meeting and others are just items that pop into my head when I’m in the room. At the end of the day, I make sure to tackle those items, add it to my calendar to block out time to work on it or write it down on my primary task list so it doesn’t fall off my radar.

Final thoughts

I talk a lot about meetings (since I’m in them all of the time!) It’s not that I don’t like them. I actually think they can be highly productive and brainstorming meetings are especially fun. I do get frustrated when lack of planning or purpose wastes the time and talents of people in the room. It’s great practice to scan over this checklist – especially when running large meetings – so we can all grow to love them a little bit more.

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