He said, She said: Not another bloody meeting!

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With the accounting profession facing unprecedented challenges — including some it couldn’t even imagine a few short years ago, like artificial intelligence — effective firm leaders need to be more focused and nimble than ever. Which brings us to the topic of our column: firm meetings. Meetings are an important part of firm management, but they cause a lot of people to roll their eyes. That’s because many meetings are poorly run and ineffective. Well-run meetings can have the opposite effect. A lot of good comes out of well-run meetings.

He said: If you ask most professionals, they will tell you they attend too many unnecessary meetings. I guarantee you that it does not take 10 people to decide what type of report cover to order or which vendor to use, and that’s the sort of thing many meetings are about.

She said: Exactly. It’s those kinds of meetings that make people cringe. They find reasons they can’t attend or, if they do go, they end up multitasking.

He said: That’s part of the problem. Meetings can’t be effective if the attendees aren’t engaged.

She said: Successful leaders are thoughtful about the meetings they call. Mostly, they schedule regular meetings to discuss firm goals, strategy, financial performance, business development opportunities, strategy and challenges — things that are critical to the success of the firm. And they limit who should attend to those who are stakeholders in the outcome.

He said: You’re right about that. Time management has a place at meetings, too. The leader needs to think about how long the meeting will take. If there are 10 items on the agenda and only one hour allocated for the meeting, it’s not going to work. Attendees will leave thinking they wasted their valuable time.

She said: These things are key. Determining critical issues and stakeholders is the place to start. Keeping attendance to the fewest people possible keeps the focus where it needs to be and allows thoughtful consensus to be reached. Allowing enough time for questions is another consideration.

He said: Another big issue with meetings is that they can be too informal. There needs to be an agenda and the meeting’s leader should be responsible for following it. If it goes off track, the leader needs to refocus the group. Important meetings should not be optional for attendees.

She said: Exactly! An agenda is critical. And each item on the agenda should have an expected outcome — for example, a vote, a fact-gathering discussion, and so on.

He said: I’d add something else. I believe the agenda should be circulated in advance, so meeting attendees have the opportunity to contribute to the agenda topics. All too often, attendees are ill-prepared. When they are asked for an opinion, they give it without much thought. That’s not a good formula for success.

She said: This has a real impact, especially at partner meetings when it comes to making major decisions that affect the firm’s future. Complex issues are considered at these meetings. At a minimum, there are financial, market, people and competitor considerations. What happens is that when partners jump from one issue to another, they never truly resolve anything. Either important items are tabled or a vote is taken on the basis of knee-jerk responses. Neither result leads to effective decision-making.

He said: You’re right. For partner meetings, firm leaders should look at their strategic goals and break them out quarterly into “Big Rocks” or quarterly initiatives. Agenda items should include a review of these items to determine whether they are on track. This will help hold the partners accountable and provide an opportunity to ask for help or resolve issues that are holding up progress. Other types of meetings should follow a similar process.

She said: One more thing. Leaders need to realize the importance of planning the meeting. It takes time, but good planning sets the tone for an effective meeting, even when the leader is thoroughly familiar with the topic and thinks he or she can wing it.

He said: You said it. Meeting outcomes improve as leaders become better meeting facilitators. The best leaders ask for feedback from attendees after the meeting and make adjustments along the way. It may take some time, but leaders who focus on improving become skilled find their meetings go much more smoothly.

They said: Effective meeting planning and facilitation can be a learned skill. We encourage everyone at any level who is responsible for leading a meeting to improve their skill set in this arena. Whether it is an executive committee, service line, industry, niche or team meeting, the quality of meetings impacts the firm’s progress. When meetings are successfully planned and run and accountability is a priority, success follows.

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