“Ihangane, ndi munama” (Sorry, I’m in a meeting) is a familiar phrase on the corporate scene when you make a phone call to offices in Kigali. The importance of meetings to management, growth and development can never be overemphasized.
Kiswahili has a saying ’kuelewana ni kuzungumza’ which loosely means there can be no understanding if people do not talk.
Meetings provide the necessary ‘meeting of minds’ so that everyone’s role is clear and all act ad idem (with one mind) and make it possible to synergize such that one plus one can be infinity! But this holds true only for productive meetings.
This brings us to the need for effective and productive meetings. There are a few tips that if we follow we could do so much better at our workplace.
First, don’t meet. Let’s face; it most meetings are a waste of time and money. We have formed a bad habit of meeting over everything and anything.
If the same information could be covered in a memo, e-mail or brief report, there is no reason to meet. We must clearly determine the need for one-way information dissemination and differentiate it from a two-way information sharing.
We go to meetings to disseminate information which could be better done through the use of a variety of other communication media, such as sending an e-mail or posting the information on your company’s intranet.
Meet only if you are satisfied that a meeting is the best way to handle the issue
Second; Set goals for the meeting before it starts. This helps guide you in setting an effective agenda for the meeting so that it is focused. Setting objectives for the meeting enables you to plan the meeting.
The more concrete your meeting objectives, the more focused your agenda will be. It also gives you a concrete measure against which you can evaluate that meeting.
Next, ensure that you provide an agenda to all participants before the meeting starts. The agenda needs to include a brief description of the meeting objectives, a list of the topics to be covered and a list stating who will address each topic and for how long.
When you send out the agenda, you should include the time, date and location of the meeting and any background information participants will need to know to hold an informed discussion on the meeting topic. Follow the agenda closely!
Fourth; give all the participants something to prepare for the meeting so that it takes on a new significance to each group member.
For problem-solving meetings, have the group read the background information necessary to get down to business in the meeting. Ask each group member to think of one possible solution to the problem to get everyone thinking about the agenda.
Don’t finish any discussion in the meeting without deciding how to act on it. Listen for key comments that flag potential action items and don’t let them pass by without addressing them during your meeting.
Assigning tasks and projects as they arise during the meeting means that your follow-through will be complete. Addressing off-topic statements during the meeting in this way also allows you to keep the meeting on track.
By immediately addressing these statements with the suggestion of making an action item to examine the issue outside of the current meeting, you show participants that you value their input as well as their time.
Lastly, assign the last few minutes of every meeting as time to reflect: What worked well in this meeting? What can we do to improve our next meeting?
Every participant should briefly provide a point-form answer to these questions. Answers to the second question should be phrased in the form of a suggested action.
Sam Kebongo is a skills and business advisory services consultant. He also teaches entrepreneurship at Rwanda Tourism University College.