Whenever someone hears the word ‘meeting’, they think of boring discussions, where a lot of time is wasted. Usually a few emails are sent beforehand and afterwards there is an email with the minutes – which no one is going to read before the next meeting. But with an intranet, meetings can be well prepared for, executed and followed up on.
People usually don’t prepare at all for meetings. Occasionally the topic of the meeting matches what is actually covered. So you vaguely know the topic, participants and time of the meeting. Just before it kicks off, you quietly ask a colleague, “What exactly is today about again?”
Topic and agenda
For each meeting there should be an agenda as well as the topic (subject), so that everyone knows what to expect. In the agenda you capture the points you will cover. Take special care to cover activities, such as discussions, interactions, conversations and especially decisions.
If the meeting agenda is purely to provide information (‘report about…’, ‘status of…’), then it is not a meeting. Such status-meetings, where people report about the status of their activities, are unnecessary. These reports and status updates should be in the intranet – for example in the respective community, the corresponding project-workplace, the task-dashboard or even additionally in the corresponding news feed (like on the homepage or the project page). Status updates can be discontinued quickly and without problems and, over time, are completed through asynchronous communication.
Time, length and location
Don’t just set the start-time, also set the length of the meeting. Be sure to allow a buffer for travelling. For example, start your meeting 15 minutes past the full hour, so that participants have enough time to get to your meeting from a previous one. Otherwise you will have guaranteed delays.
Be sure to have pages for meeting-rooms in your intranet. Site plans or road maps as well as photos, make it easier for colleagues or external participants, who attend a meeting for the first time. Describe the infrastructure. (Is there a small kitchen? Where is the toilet?)
Moderator and keeper of the minutes
If possible, determine who moderates and keeps the minutes beforehand.
Sometimes it makes sense to ask someone, who wouldn’t otherwise have to be in the meeting, to take minutes. Because, if the keeper of the minutes joins long intense discussions, the minutes suffer, or they lack professional input. The keeper of the minutes is there to focus on the minutes, the participants on the discussions.
Store templates for minutes in the intranet. For people, who are not yet (that) used to moderating meetings, you can store FAQs or short tutorials in the intranet.
A meeting should have a ‘home’ in the intranet, a meeting workspace, where all of the following important information is stored in one place during the preparation period (and also later):
- During the preparation period, participants can add to and complete the agenda.
- All documentation is available on time and for all participants. Create tasks (with timely deadlines), if other colleagues have to make documents available.
- Participants can independently add their own documents (documents such as texts, presentations and spreadsheets).
- All participants (where appropriate including their title) are on the list of attendees with a link to their intranet-profile.
- The list of tasks.
Create a ‘freeze’ for the meeting workspace, after which no changes can be made, so that participants can be sure nothing else gets changed and no further documents added. This way, everyone has, for example, 2 days time to get acquainted with all documents.
With a meeting workspace, everyone has the same access to the information. Everyone has the possibility, to add to the preparation, without numerous emails being sent back and forth, or phone calls being made, because these forms of communication never include everyone.
Use calendar software to plan. Don’t rely on verbal agreements or exchange of emails. With a good calendar program, all participants, times and resources are always up-to-date. Moreover, many intranets allow you to show the appointments from the calendar software on the ‘meeting-homepage’ or even to change it directly (for example, with widgets, plug-ins or add-ons).
With this, every participant has the meeting in their calendar and gets reminders and updates. Calendar software often enables you to find a time when everyone is available. Calendar software should also help you to reserve resources, such as rooms or projectors.
Be on time
Start and end the meeting on time. Although this also depends on the company’s and country’s cultures. Meetings are often very tightly organized, and if your meeting runs late, it reflects badly on the organizer.
If you notice that you cannot go through your planned workload before the scheduled end, or cannot cover all the content, plan a follow-up meeting. The agenda and all documents are already in the workspace for the current meeting. Just drag and drop the respective agenda points and documents to the next meeting’s workspace. There, your colleagues can amend and update all details and documents.
Ensure your colleagues don’t start to multi-task. No phone calls, no checking of emails, no activities that don’t belong to the meeting. Concentrate on the meeting alone. Thanks to the meeting workspace and the preparation, all participants have all required information.
Queries for non-participants
If, during the discussions, questions for other colleagues come up, use the messaging-option of the intranet. You can see straight away, whether a colleague is available to reply or not.
But, if this means you have to postpone an agenda point, straight away create a task for your colleague on the intranet.
Participants don’t always have to be present on site. Some participants might have to travel the day before, only to be present to discuss a single point for 10 minutes. Travel, often even from the neighboring building, rarely makes sense.
Virtually include your colleague via your intranet’s conferencing or video software. Don’t just use the telephone, because the temptation to start multi-tasking can be too strong for your colleagues. Additionally, you can all better understand video seeing facial expression and gestures. Decide beforehand at what point in time you want to add your colleague via video.
Avoid complete and lengthy presentations. Presentations or other documents should be made available in the meeting workspace during the preparation phase, so that all participants can review it on time. Many questions can be solved before the meeting, via the intranet’s comment functions. For core issues or questions that require joint solutions, you can fall back on the documents saved in the meeting workspace and speak about them.
Take advantage of the option to present information not just textually, but also visually. For example, don’t just explain the difficulties with the new ERP software verbally, but also show them on a screen.
Colleagues that are in the meeting, can assist the keeper of the minutes. For example, whoever points out specific information, upon which a decision is made, often have a link to it on their notebook. With intranet software, the link can be added to the minutes instantaneously, instead of sending it by email later.
If you assign tasks in your meeting, create tasks straight away in your collaborative software.
After events, such as meetings, people tend to have different interpretations (Rashomon effect). With ‘live-minutes’ you can avoid a lot of irritation. With a good follow-up, participants can ask additional questions and clarify points, where necessary.
Sending a summary, minutes and tasks
Give the keeper of the minutes a bit of time to finish his task. Because the minutes were written live, it shouldn’t take too much time. Promptly (within one to three working days) send out a summary, the minutes and the defined tasks.
But don’t write long emails with documents attached, because after a few private email questions and replies, everyone has a different understanding.
Send a short message, in which you thank the participants, with links to the summary, the minutes and the tasks. The summary and minutes (as all other documents) should be in the meeting workspace. Depending on what your intranet looks like, you may have the tasks in a separate program, such as a project management software program. But there might be a widget (or a plug-in), that allows you to show the tasks in the meeting workspace.
Give your colleagues a few days time to go through the summary, minutes and tasks, as well as the documents, but communicate a fixed deadline. Until the deadline colleagues can clarify questions and submit additional details. Colleagues should be able to ask questions and comment directly in the meeting workspace (or rather directly in the documents). Via @-mentions, addressed colleagues get notifications and know that they were mentioned.
After the deadline, all decisions and documents are valid as agreed.
Another quick note on the length of meetings. Parkinson’s law also applies for meetings, especially the one relating to office bureaucracies.
Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.
So, for example, if you allocate four hours for a meeting, the meeting will run for four hours. Even if you could go through the agenda in two hours. 😉
And never have important and difficult topics, such as decisions that involve a lot of money, in the same meeting as important but simple topics.
The time spent on any item of the agenda will be in inverse proportion to the sum involved.
Due to the ‘law of triviality’, the majority of time is often spent on discussions about relatively minor issues, because they are easy to grasp for most participants.
PS: Just now I received an invitation to a meeting by email. How did I know it was an invitation? The subject is ‘invitation’.
This article is translated from the German article written by Frank Hamm.
Frank Hamm is a consultant for communication and collaboration who supports companies in their digital transformation. He has written for INJELEA-Blog about social business, intranets, enterprise 2.0 and company communication practices since 2005. Frank is an avowed nexialist and writes about this at Der Schreibende. If you are interested in other articles Frank has written for us, check out our intranet special.