How to have better meetings

Jess Sherratt,
Head of User Experience

Over the past two years, the world has moved online and it seems we have all forgotten how to be human. 

Ok, maybe that’s a little extreme – but as a researcher, it’s been so interesting to observe how peoples’ behaviour has changed over time with virtual meetings. This video sums it up really nicely.

Common behaviors making their way into our world

Every minute of the day is a meeting

We are living in a world where you can no longer stop by someone’s desk for a 5-minute chat and a bit of advice. Time with our colleagues has become much more formal, resulting in every minute being a meeting. Long gone are the times of a lunch break, wee, or even a KitKat!

Agenda and purpose

Our time is full of meetings, but what are they actually for?

Who else has seen a meeting drop in without real guidance as to what you will talk about, what platform it’s on, or even what role you are supposed to play?

I know we are just ‘popping’ some time in, but I need to know if I am needed or can I carry on with the work I need to do.

Dual tasking

This is a trap we have all fallen into! I am sure you have all been caught out in a meeting distracted by that pesky Slack notification thinking, “I can just answer this quickly”.

Before you know it, you’re in a full conversation not engaging in the meeting you are attending. Someone asked your opinion about what has just been said, you have no idea.

Gone are the days of a physical meeting or workshop with a no laptop rule – but if we are going to bother to turn up, we should at least be present and active.

Real-world distractions

Remember the days when in the middle of a meeting discussing the full year strategy, someone would barge through the door because they don’t have a room? How embarrassing it was to lose your flow and be disrupted.

Well, that shame is no more thanks to our work lives and personal lives colliding. Running off-camera to accept a delivery, having to mute in between every word because the dog is barking, pausing while somebody reboots their internet – this has become the (dare I say it) ‘new normal’.

But you have to wonder how do you feel being on the receiving end?

Speaking to a blank screen

There has been many a debate on our internal channels as to whether you should or shouldn’t be on camera, what that means, and how it makes people feel.

In order to ensure everyone feels ok, Code has been ultimately flexible. Home internet rubbish? No worries, we flex.

However, (and I admit, I have been guilty for this once or twice) not going on camera because you are not presentable for work should not be the norm, we are at work we should always be ‘ready to work’ well – from the waist upwards at least.

How to be kind to others and ensure we have effective meetings

I always plan using the gamestorming framework. Whether it is a whole programme of work or a 121 engagement, it is really useful to check your 7P’s.

Purpose – Why are you having this meeting?

As the organiser of the meeting, tell everyone clearly and succinctly why you need the meeting and what you are aiming to achieve – we don’t need war and peace but it’s important not to skip this step. If you’re struggling to do this maybe you don’t need the meeting after all?

Product – What specific artefact will you produce out of the meeting?

Whatever you do make, ask yourself these questions:

  • What will this do?
  • How does this help the purpose?

The product can be as simple as an action list.

People – Who needs to be there, and what role will they play?

Think about the people you need in the physical or virtual room to reach your purpose:

  • What questions are you answering?
  • Who are the right people to answer these questions?

Process – What agenda will those people use to create the product?

The most collaborative P in the 7P’s, this is something you can co-design in advance that will help with attendance and contribution.

Pitfalls – What are the risks in this meeting, and how will we address them?

We all know that meetings are not always perfect so here are some things to keep your meeting on track:

  • Golden rules, such as “no laptops”
  • Parking lots to move along

Prep – What would be useful to do in advance?

What do you want people to do as homework to ensure the session is productive? This could be reading or things to think about before you arrive.

Practical Concerns – These are the logistics of the meeting and shouldn’t be underestimated.

Ask yourself as you set up every meeting:

  • Where will it be?
  • When is it?
  • And most importantly, do we need snacks and lunch (if in person)

. . .

Do you follow any golden rules with meetings to ensure they’re as productive as possible? Let me know on Twitter!

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