Adding structure to meetings

Adding structure to meetings
Photo by Mimi Thian / Unsplash

Activity lacking direction and decision-making? You need a leader.

A few years ago, I was a Senior User Experience Designer at an eCommerce business. As part of my job, I would often get called into meetings for a ‘user point of view,’ as that was my key responsibility within the team.

Upon arrival, I’d sit down and contribute very little. I noticed others were doing the same too. The fact was that a couple of the managers would really have the conversation, and if they needed a data point or answer, would turn to us to regurgitate some stat. Then, before we knew it, other colleagues would collect at the glass door in the corridor outside, I would look at my watch, and our hour meeting was over.

I started to resent these meetings. I was powerless to do anything about them, until I read something that completely changed my approach in the way I would participate in meetings — forever.

Assign a leader

It’s about assigning a leader; Someone that can own the activity. A leader’s responsibility in this context is:

  • to run the activity
  • make final decisions within the activity
  • manage and empathise with the team
  • manage ambiguity and engage the group

According to Dr Amanda Allisey a Senior Lecturer at Deakin University, there has never before been a time when leadership skills have played such a vital role in supporting employees:

‘Leadership skills are becoming more and more important as we move towards more flexible workplaces’

Here are some ways that can manifest within a typical business:

Ask “who is leading this?”

Probably the most powerful thing to ask within a meeting is “who is running this?” It’s not necessarily the person that sent the meeting invite. Affirming who is running this in front of the group is a powerful action, as it accomplishes a number of truths:

  • who is referee of keeping to the agenda?
  • who is responsible for the meeting’s result?
  • who has asked those invited to leave what they’re doing and do this?
  • who is spending the company’s money?

That last point is a recent understanding of mine. Work out the hourly rates of the people involved, and then you can see just how expensive/critical this meeting really is. Is this a £100 meeting? What did you have to show after £100 of investment?

Photo by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash

Once the leader of the meeting is identified in front of the group, a unique thing happens. Responsibility falls to them. They’ll be known as the one that ran this meeting. Was it run well or poorly?

This technique works well in ad-hoc projects too. If you’re organising an event, you need a leader to be accountable and drive the project. If you need to start a marketing campaign, someone needs to own it, drive it and critique it. And if, in the unfortunate situation something goes wrong, the leader needs to “own up” and take responsibility.

I hope that gives you clear ideas on how to make meetings more effective and create more valuable outputs.