How to Design a Meeting The DOs: 13 Rules That Create The Best Meetings Ever

How to Design a Meeting The DOs: 13 Rules That Create The Best Meetings Ever

Here is a follow-up to the Infographic How to Design a Meeting in a collaborative work environment. This installment focuses on what to do when planning and running a meeting in a collaborative work environment. Here is a link to the DON’Ts.

Work with attendees to co-create a prioritized agenda so everyone understands the purpose of the meeting, their role in it & what to expect. That means that the agenda isn’t owned by the leader, but by the people attending the meeting. Co-creation is a central premise in Management by Design. This design rule helps ensure that everyone gets what they need out of the meeting, and if they don’t get it, they understand the priorities or time constraints that took their item off the agenda (and hopefully, they see it already posted to a future agenda). If you want to keep people engaged in a meeting, then make the meeting their meeting—not just by saying stupid things like: “Hey, guys, this is your meeting.” —but by taking the time before the meeting to really co-create the experience.

To Dos for How to Design A Meeting

  • Develop rules of engagement for physical & virtual attendees. If you are on a phone, especially a cellular phone, you can often feel very detached from a meeting. Between noise, being ignored, or not being heard very well, it’s hard to blame your teammates for some less-than-optimal engagement. Think about rules like the following:
  1. If you can’t really be in the meeting, don’t be in the meeting. If you are driving, and trying to communicate with team, you are a distraction, not a contributor—and a potential safety risk. If a person’s participation is critical, schedule the meeting around their ability to be someplace where they can really contribute.
  2. Set the expectation that if you are on a cellphone driving or in noisy place, and you still feel like listening in, then that is what you get to do: listen. No one is going to reach out and ask for input or chat with you to be inclusive. This should offend because the rule is agreed upon before the meeting. When you attend in listen mode, put the phone on mute and take good mental or physical notes to ask in the workspace after the meeting.
  3. If you are logged in and have a good quality line then you are a full participant. The team needs to make time to check-in with you on open discussion, feedback and decisions, as it is often hard to cut into a meeting as a remote person. If you are using realtime meeting software (and you should be), pay attention to attendee status and questions coming in from online participants.
  • Gather links to all relevant content. Before the meeting starts, gather links to all relevant content and post them in the shared meeting space. Don’t make people e-mail files during the meeting. Don’t try to spell out URLs for people to type. Do your homework and place the content or links. Make it easy for people to find what is needed for the meeting. And NO HANDOUTS please (make up your digital copy with Microsoft OneNote or any variety of apps on the iPad or Android, or with Adobe Acrobat. If native, use the revision tracking feature of the application — and then save those comments back as a new version of the document being used in the meeting).

    Download the How to Design a Meeting PDF
  • Leave all content in source collaboration spaces or repositories. For many meetings, the meeting topics are more about status and visibility. That means the real work is taking place elsewhere. If that is true, draw from the source, don’t duplicate. And if the meeting is a working meeting for a project or other task, then it should have its own collaborative space that is about the work, not the meeting.  So if that is true, then leave the work where the work takes place. Don’t duplicate it in a meeting space. Leave it where it is and work there, because the meeting is just an activity for the project, not a thing for its own sake.  If a status meeting requires a couple of charts, fine, but even those would be better if pulled from a slide repository rather than created just for the meeting. Much time is spent duplicating and then reintegrating content because people mistakenly think the meeting is the work.
  • Share decisions, action items & outcomes to relevant collaboration spaces. Whatever the outcome of a  meeting, share those outcomes on the relevant collaboration spaces, not in the meeting space (or at least, not exclusively within the collaboration space). This will keep the work in context.
  • Plan for variation to keep people interested. Several parts of Management by Design are dedicated to the idea of Variety and Emphasis, and Proportion. These design principles are intended to help people designing work experiences keep them interesting, without forgoing what is important. In a meeting, new ways of learning may be introduced, or team-building exercises, or food, or music, or a report from an area outside of the group’s usual purview.
  • Make sure the equipment works & people know how to use the software. One of the biggest issues with collaboration software is the nonchalant way that organizations deploy it. IT focuses on features, or new features if an upgrade, but no one takes the time to discuss the impact of the collaboration technology, how to effectively use it under different situations. Give people time to practice so that when they are in the heat of the moment, using collaboration software is as second nature as driving.
  • Use the agenda to drive the meeting. If you co-create the agenda, it should be used to drive the meeting. Unless a black swan or other catastrophic event occurs, don’t deviate. All those great ideas for this meeting should be for the next meeting. However, I didn’t co-create your meeting. If your agenda calls for ideas for the current meeting, then that is your choice (though I would suggest it isn’t very efficient). With a designed meeting you should know what to expect, and have that expectation delivered on (that doesn’t always mean efficiency. If the agenda calls for brainstorming, then deliver on the brainstorming, and leave time to reveal in the surprise found in the detail).
  • Share a calendar appointment & link to the meeting space.  Avoid e-mail as a content carrier wave, but use it as the channel for appointments and a link to the meeting space. Admonish people from sending anything else via e-mail. All content and links should end up in an appropriate collaboration space in the meeting space.
  • Provision attendees so they can access all links. There is nothing more frustrating than clicking on a shared link with restricted access. Work out provisioning and permissions before the meeting.
  • Facilitate the meeting through the meeting space. Run the meeting, from loading the agenda to capturing outcomes, in realtime, in the meeting space. If you have a realtime environment, and asynchronous meeting software running at the same time, archive any realtime work in the best asynchronous repository during the meeting. If everything is linked to the agenda, and everything is archived from the agenda/meeting space, it will be easy for people to find expectations and results, even if they didn’t attend the meeting.

How to Design A Meeting image

  • Use e-mail only for meeting notification. The meeting takes place in and through the meeting space. There is no need for e-mail beyond notification. Don’t say you are an e-mail culture and revert. The meeting space software was procured to support meetings. You own it, so own the value realization. Most of these technologies are open and flexible so you can design not only the agenda but the entire meeting experience.
  • Tag external project or task conversations so the Meeting Space can act as a lens to consolidate information relevant to meeting attendees. This is a little bit of information architecture but please consider it. If status and other updates are linked to the appropriate collaboration spaces during the meeting, then any updates related to them should be placed back into those spaces to ensure context and continuity. Once those threads, posts, files, links, or other content types are created, link them back to the meeting space for closure. Yes, it takes a little more time, but it is worth the completeness. Depending on the system you have deployed, you may be able to get a techie to write a script to help automate this process.
  • Reuse Meeting Spaces for recurring meetings. Don’t create a new meeting space for each meeting. Keep your context and history handy, and ensure that everyone knows where to go to find the information. Design includes ideas of elegance, and when you design meetings, also think about elegance. If everybody already knows where to go, and how the space works, then that constitutes an elegant solution.


How to Design a Meeting: Tech and Expectation Consistency

If you have deployed a collaboration environment that includes a central repository as well as remote meeting management software, you should use them for every meeting. Don’t have some meetings that are phone calls, and others that use one or the other technology. Consistent use of your collaboration technology will provide you with a better meeting experience, improved digital asset management, less lost time and lost information, and a more skilled workforce. Yes, people will need to learn some new skills and practice them, but that should make the design more intriguing at the start.

Daniel W. Rasmus

Daniel W. Rasmus, Founder and Principal Analyst of Serious Insights, is an internationally recognized speaker on the future of work and education. He is the author of several books, including Listening to the Future and Management by Design.

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