Understanding the different types of meetings
This article explores the types of meetings, and how each can be utilised by leaders who perceive meeting management as a way to enhance their companies’ efficiency, productivity, and profitability.
As the English saying goes ‘horses for courses’ - and meetings are no different. They are inseparable from corporate life, but it is important to choose the right types of meetings for each specific purpose. Much like a game of chess, in which the various pieces contribute to different stages of an overall strategy, different types of meetings play pivotal roles in varying areas of business.
However, meetings are, all-too-often, poorly managed, and as a result the types of meetings that are used often aren’t fit for purpose. In fact, many of us are accustomed to having too many meetings and very few executives are given the necessary training to address meeting management specifically, which perhaps explains why so many struggle to manage meetings effectively.
Mastering meeting management is key to establishing competitive advantage, and the first step to conquering any discipline is to understand it. As meetings are so ubiquitous, and executives time-scarce, it is challenging to dedicate the necessary time to fully understanding the nuances of the different types of meetings and their functions.
In this article, we give an introduction to the types of meetings, exploring how each can be utilised, in the hope that busy leaders can begin unpicking their own approach to meeting management to begin putting their meetings to good use, enhancing their companies’ efficiency, productivity, and profitability.
The different types of meetings: Formal vs. Informal
Before we dive into the specifics of the different types of meetings, there is one significant distinction that we should start with: Formal vs. informal.
The large majority of meetings fall into the category of informal meetings, despite what most people think. By contrast, formal meetings are held far less frequently, but have perhaps the greatest impact. Let's establish a working definition of a formal meeting:
A formal meeting is any pre-arranged meeting between two or more people which:
- Takes place for the purpose of achieving a common, stated objective
- Takes place at a designated date, time, and location
- Follows a clear meeting agenda
- Is recorded in meeting minutes to recount discussions, votes, and action items.
Therefore, an informal meeting is any meeting between two or more people which does not satisfy all of the above criteria. From this, you can see that the large majority of business meetings that take place are *informal* meetings, which is contrary to the conventional wisdom.
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Let's explore each of these types of meetings in more detail.
Formal meetings: From strategy to progress
With our working definition of formal meetings clear, we can look deeper into the different types of formal meetings that are commonly held in the world of business. These include:
1. Management Meeting
Perhaps the most frequently-held formal meetings are management meetings. These happen at different intervals depending on the organisation, but are usually either monthly or quarterly. In these meetings, the meeting agenda will usually include an update from each department on performance, an evaluation against annual goals and targets, and votes on key decisions, such as the implementation of new software or the hiring of a new member of the leadership team. In enterprises, these meetings will usually be led by a Chief Executive Officer and will include other members of the top tiers of management, including VPs or the C-Suite. Minutes for these meetings are recorded, and in some cases are distributed (in redacted forms) to the wider organisation so that everyone remains aligned.
2. Board of Directors meeting
A company's Board of Directors is accountable to shareholders, and is responsible for having oversight of a company's performance. As with management meetings, these are held at different intervals, but are typically quarterly or bi-annual meetings that comprise individuals who either have a vested interest in a company's performance, and can provide specialist input to the way an organisation is run. These individuals often hold more than one board mandate, and therefore are exceptionally time-scarce. Therefore, these meetings need to be well-organised and very structured, giving ample time for individuals to prepare thoroughly.
3. Committee meeting
In many organisations, committees are formed around specific issues that require more attention that can be adequately given in a Board of Directors meeting. These committees will meet more regularly than the board does, and will report upon their progress at each BoD meeting. They will usually comprise members of the board, along with subject-matter experts in the area that they are formed to work upon. For example, a Board of Directors might assemble a specialist committee around digital transformation, in order to overhaul an organisation's approach to IT and its infrastructure. As such, it would be sensible to include a Chief Digital Officer in this committee, even though they might not sit on the board of the organisation.
4. Shareholders' meeting
A shareholder's meeting, also known as an annual general meeting (AGM) in some cases, is a meeting of all of those with a financial interest in an organisation. These usually happen either annually or bi-annually, and are an opportunity for the leadership of a company to give a progress update, as well as a chance for shareholders to ask questions of the management. The overall objective is to report on the performance of the organisation in the prior period, and to outline the strategy for the next, to gain the shareholders' buy-in.
5. Strategy meeting
Strategy meetings can be held at various levels within the management of an organisation. In some cases, a strategy meeting might form part of a regular management meeting, however it is, more often, a separate formal meeting that is held either annually or quarterly between the leaders of an organisation. The purpose of this meeting is to determine the organisational strategy for a period of time (often the year or quarter ahead) and involves the most senior stakeholders from each department or division, who then cascade the strategy down to their areas of expertise.
Informal meetings: Key to culture and teamwork
Informal meetings represent the large majority of meetings that take place in the world of business. Whether it is a regular 1:1 with a manager, or a catch-up with a colleague over coffee, these meetings are not only ubiquitous, but are crucial to the performance, culture, and employee experience of an organisation. By contrast to formal meetings, they do not always have a robust agenda, and no minutes are taken, however this does not undermine their significance to the way a business functions.
The different types of informal meetings include:
As the old adage goes, “two heads are better than one”. Gathering with other individuals to brainstorm ideas is something that has taken place for millennia, and while the processes that surround these interactions have grown more sophisticated with time, the fundamentals remain unchanged. A brainstorming meeting often includes a range of stakeholders, either from within a department or across functions, the objective of which is to put fresh ideas on the table and discuss them as a group. These discussions usually take place around a given topic, such as the development of a new product or planning a new marketing campaign. The different points of view help the driver of an initiative to refine their approach and their understanding, as well as injecting creativity into the process.
Problem solving is a part of daily corporate life for nearly everyone, and so it follows that problem-solving meetings are a mainstay in your diary. Problem-solving meetings are informal in nature, but they are no less important as they help reduce roadblocks and enable initiatives to be driven forward. Ordinarily they would include subject-matter experts in the area being discussed, as well as members from a project team or department who are facing the issue in question. The outcome of this meeting will, in many cases, be a clear route forward or a clearer idea of who to involve in order to surpass the obstacle in question.
Training is another type of informal meeting that - in many cases - is incorrectly classified as a formal meeting. While training might satisfy some of the criteria that fall under formal meetings, it does not usually involve writing meeting minutes and instead is a collaboration between whoever is training, and their trainee, to ensure that knowledge is imparted.
4. Progress updates
If organisations are to be productive, and to achieve, then evaluating progress is vital. Therefore, holding specific meetings for progress to be reported upon is highly recommended. As opposed to general management meetings, progress update meetings will involve a wider range of stakeholders who are responsible for driving different initiatives. In these meetings they will each take it in turn to report on the progress that has been made, the blockers that have arisen, and the projected timeline for the remainder of the initiative. These meetings should be held reasonably regularly - likely monthly - however if your organisation works in weekly or fortnightly sprints then it might make sense to hold these meetings more regularly.
5. Team Building
Another type of informal meeting that is integral to organisational success - especially in times of remote working and hybrid meetings - is a team building meeting. In team building meetings you have the opportunity to connect with your team, and for your team to connect with one another, as human beings. While this is a great way to ensure that you are all aligned behind a vision and mission, it is also just as important to mix in some fun. Ice breakers are a good way to get the relaxed atmosphere established, and it can also be a nice idea to include some games and an opportunity for coffee - or even a few drinks. These meetings can take various forms, ranging from physical gatherings to virtual interactions facilitated through conference calling.
6. Coffee chats
Coffee chats are often overlooked as a type of meeting, when really they are crucial to developing and maintaining your organisation’s culture - especially during times of remote working. A coffee chat is a 15 or 20 minute conversation between two people for the purpose of introducing themselves, having a general catch-up, and connecting as human beings. They are a great way of getting to know people from across your organisation - many of whom you don’t have the opportunity to interact with during your day-to-day work.
In distributed or remote teams, these conversations replace the infamous ‘watercooler conversations’ which are often lost when employees are no longer co-located. By taking a short break in your day to have a virtual coffee with someone you perhaps don’t know as well, individuals are helping to foster and bolster the culture of the organisation, and create connections that wouldn’t otherwise exist - all of which is good for business.
Effective meeting management: Horses for courses
It is important to choose the right types of meetings for each specific purpose. Therefore, when arranging a meeting - whether formal or informal - it is important to think about the meeting design, the objectives of the meeting, and whether the type of meeting you are arranging is fit for purpose.
For example, as a leader, arranging a coffee chat to receive an update on the progress of an initiative will not necessarily be received positively by your team members as they will feel blindsided, and using time in your formal management meeting to have general catch-ups with colleagues will also likely frustrate rather than delight other meeting participants.
Therefore, it is essential that you recognise the different types of meetings that are available - think of them as tools at your disposal - and select the most appropriate forum for the objectives you are trying to achieve.
Learn more about meeting management today and find out how to get the most out of your meetings.