Meetings are essential in business and proposals, but they also waste a lot of time. We groan about the weekly proposal staff meeting because it takes away from productive time at our desks. Meetings from corporate and HR are unnecessarily long, leaving you wishing that you’d skipped each and asked a coworker to fill you in. Then there are those meaningful meetings you’re anticipating—like the strategy and solution sessions—but when there’s no follow-up after the meeting, ideas dissipate and you end up repeating conversations and decisions. Or worse, immediately after the meeting you realize that you and your colleagues walked away with very different impressions of what happened in the meeting, nullifying any progress you thought you’d made.
While we’ve all bemoaned these kinds of ineffective meetings, sometimes we perpetuate these issues when we’re the meeting leader. We can save everyone some time and build credibility in our organizations by scheduling meetings only when discussion is required, inviting the right people, and guiding meeting attendees before and after the meeting.
Only schedule meetings when discussion is required
In “How to Stop Having Stupid Staff Meetings,” Karin Hurt makes it clear that meetings should only be scheduled when a discussion needs to take place. Relaying information is best handled through other forms of communication, such as email blasts, newsletters, or updates to a shared portal/document repository. For staff meetings in particular, Hurt suggests tossing the typical round-robin report format and instead asking questions that generate conversation.
If you currently host a regular proposal department status meeting, consider replacing it with 10- or 15-minute one-on-ones with your staff. If you have important information to relay to the team, you can send a group email prior to the individual meetings so you can address questions during the individual sessions.
Similarly, we can apply this concept to handling proposal amendments. When an RFP amendment is released, don’t automatically schedule a meeting to review the changes with the entire team. Determine if the requirement changes are so direct and straightforward that you could send out a detailed email update or talk with one or two people directly. Only schedule the meeting if the updated requirements warrant a discussion among multiple proposal project team members.
Schedule the right people
When scheduling a meeting, be conscious of who needs to attend the meeting versus who needs to be kept informed of meeting outcomes. Some attendees just need to be briefed on specific outcomes of the meeting, and being present for the entire meeting wastes their time and diminishes the collective energy and attention in the room. Smaller meetings are easier to manage, and you’ll establish a reputation in the office as someone who only sends invitations to meaningful meetings. The following rule of thumb for determining the right number of meeting attendees comes from the Harvard Business Review’s recent article on having better meetings:
- 8 or fewer attendees for decision-making
- 18 or fewer attendees for brainstorming
- 1,800 or fewer attendees for rallying the troops
Lead your attendees before and after the meeting
Get the most out of your meetings by guiding your attendees before and after the meeting. Harvard Business Review’s suggested agenda templates include a section for how meeting attendees can prepare for that segment of the agenda. This practice guides attendees in case they aren’t experienced, and it demonstrates your expectation that attendees will be prepared.
To illustrate this concept in practice, for a proposal kickoff meeting you may list which sections of the RFP attendees should review prior to the meeting. This makes it clear to attendees that you do expect them to read those sections and makes it easy for them to find relevant information. The preparation for a kickoff meeting may seem obvious to you, but listing everything on the agenda helps orient attendees who are new to proposals and it allows you to hold people accountable to the standards you established.
In addition to setting your attendees up for success, follow up with attendees to guide their post-meeting actions. In “3 Communication Mistakes Screwing Up Teamwork,” Karin Hurt implicates poor meeting follow-up as a major cause in team communication breakdowns. She recommends concluding each meeting with a summary of key takeaways and action items. This wrap-up provides traction for any next steps and clarifies the discussion.
Meetings are necessary, but they don’t necessarily have to waste time. You’ll have more-effective meetings if you limit meetings to discussions instead of reporting, invite the right people, and guide your attendees before and after meetings.