Meetings are meant to increase work productivity by sharing information and update others on projects and progress, create solutions, make decisions, and in general make sure everyone is in the loop of what’s going on in the company.
warningUnfortunately, too often meetings rather become a hinder to work productivity and time spent in them feels wasted, making you wish you spent it doing other things on your list. And since most of us spend a lot of time in meetings, we should at least make them useful and productive.
According to a University of North Carolina cross-industry study cited by HBR in their Stop the Meeting Madness article, 71% of senior leaders said that meetings are unproductive and inefficient.
We’ve all been stuck in a bad meeting. You arrive on time only to have the meeting start 10 minutes late. The agenda? Unclear. The person in charge? Also. Some people start to offer ideas, others shoot them down. Nothing is really decided and the meeting wraps up, as you silently lament the lost hour.
If you are reading this is because, just like me, you don’t want to waste your time and talent.
Meetings are not the problem — unnecessary, poorly designed ones are the issue.
Successful meetings don’t happen by accident, but by design.
This guide will walk you through the ingredients you need to organize and run effective meetings. You might be surprised by what really matters (and what doesn’t).
Set a Clear Agenda
It may seem like an obvious requirement, but a lot of meetings start with no clear sense of purpose.
Set a clear agenda for the meeting. This should establish why the meeting is necessary, what is going to be covered and what the expected outcome is for the meeting.
The meeting’s agenda can be summarized on a handout, written on a whiteboard or discussed explicitly at the outset, but everyone should know why they’ve gathered and what they’re supposed to be accomplishing.
The agenda provides a compass for the conversation, so the meeting can get back on track if the discussion wanders off course.
warningSome types of meetings are legit, while others aren’t. Meetings should never be held for the sole purpose of sharing information.
Every meeting should have a goal, and by not clearly defining that goal with your agenda, or even clearly spelling it out in the description of your meeting invite, you are wasting your co-workers’ time.
One thing is creating the agenda, another is to send it out in advance to enable others to prepare for the meeting, as well as come with feedback if there are additional topics they believe should be discussed.
Not only are people aware of what the meeting is about as they enter it, but they are also more likely to be engaged and take part in the meeting, as they might have already done some research or at least made up some thoughts on the different topics being discussed.
A meeting will only be effective if its purpose and goals are met, whether its resolving a dispute between employees or discussing a company crisis, a clear purpose must be planned before sending out the invites to the involved people.
One problem commonly afflicting meetings is unclear objectives. A 2013 Forbes article advises you spend twice as much time on an agenda as you typically would to streamline objectives and schedule your meeting for half the time originally planned.
Invite Players, Not Spectators
Only invite the people that are absolutely necessary. If people do not have any stake in what is being discussed then they do not need to attend.
warningLimit the attendees to the meeting. We tend to over invite people to meetings.
Just as we over “cc” people to emails, we assume it’s better to over-invite to a meeting then miss someone. That way of thinking may make sense for the annual holiday party, but it doesn’t for corporate meetings!
The more people in a meeting, the less responsibility each person has.
If each person does not feel necessary, they won’t be as diligent to follow up on discussed items. They will assume that others will do it. By limiting ‘spectators’, you keep the meetings shorter, more engaging and easier to have effective follow up.
Balance the attendee mix so ideas are expressed in a respectful way and others’ perspectives and issues are taken into reasonable account. Quality is not about the smarts but balancing participants. You need diverse skills and points of view.
Consider only the necessary people for a meeting and then send out the invites to those people. That way, you will not waste other people’s time and productivity.
ImportantContrary to popular belief, making meetings optional increases engagement. Opting-in meetings make people manage their time more effectively — it’s our most valuable asset.
Scarcity makes things more valuable. When a meeting has a limited capacity, it becomes more attractive to join.
Sometimes people send delegates in their absence. If a delegate attends in the place of a crucial decision-maker, make sure the designated staff member has the authority to make final decisions that can be signed-off on. Otherwise, postpone the meeting.
Time Waits For No One
Start on Time. End on Time. Nothing can drain the energy from a room quite like waiting for the person in charge to show up. Time is money, of course, and all that sitting around and trying to guess when the boss may arrive is a waste of a precious resource.
Do not wait for people who are running late, but start the meeting on time.
There are right and wrong times for meetings. Some “bad times” are obvious—Friday at 4:30 pm, for example. Others are less obvious.
According to YouCanBookMe, Tuesday at 2:30 pm is the best time in terms of attendance and focus. It’s not too early, not too late, and not when people are burned out.
ImportantCreate a final schedule and stick with it.
Create a memorandum for the meeting along with the important details such as topics to be discussed, venue, start and end time, and the people involved. People will be more comfortable with a meeting if the agenda is laid in front of them.
A successful meeting runs smoothly to maximize the time at hand. A facilitator keeps the meeting on track with specific agenda points and the overall schedule.
In all, you see to it that attendees receive balanced time to share and respond to thoughts, managing conflict and building consensus as necessary.
Meetings should not fill allotted time. You don’t fit the meeting into the calendar; you use the calendar to capture the time needed for the meeting. Meetings should go only as long as they need to accomplish the specified goal. Most of the unproductive time comes when people feel like there is more time allocated than necessary.
Close With an Action Plan
Leave the last few minutes of every meeting to discuss the next steps. This discussion should include deciding who is responsible for what, and what the deadlines are.
ImportantNo one should leave the room without clear next steps or unsolved issues — use the last few minutes of a meeting to build clarity. Otherwise, all the time you spent on the meeting will be for naught.
You must end with action steps.
Meetings are a place to talk, but talk is cheap unless it’s followed by action. At the end of every meeting, there should be an announcement of action items that emerged from the discussion.
Meeting participants should know what they should be doing and that there will be a time where their actions will be reviewed.
Additionally, a closing round allows people to express how they feel about the meeting and to get something off their chest.
Everybody should leave a meeting energized — they have to feel the time spent was worth it.
Make sure that the action items are specific and time-limited. After the meeting, consider sending out an email with everyone’s action items and due dates. This keeps people from forgetting what they had to do and holds each individual accountable to the group. Also, that message creates the opportunity for people to email you afterward with questions that they forgot to ask or didn’t know they had.
Follow Up and Accountability
Respecting and observing deadlines and follow-up will help you achieve results from your meetings. Following the meeting, each person with an action item should make an action plan for accomplishing each of their commitments.
Whether they delegate the tasks to another staff person, or complete the task immediately, the individual is responsible for follow-up.
Your goal is to check progress and ensure that tasks are underway.
ImportantNext, you must create accountability during the next meeting.
Have you ever sat in a follow-up meeting that consisted of each participant telling the group why they were unable to accomplish their commitment?
If a task is stalled, at the next meeting see if there is a legitimate roadblock to progress, and determine how to proceed.
Make sure that you follow up with people if you get feedback that’s particularly specific or thought-provoking. And if someone seems very unhappy, check in with them. You want everyone to feel heard.
Always be evaluating your meetings. The practice of debriefing each business meeting is a powerful tool for continuous improvement. Participants take turns discussing what was effective, or ineffective, about the current business meeting process. They also discuss the progress they feel the group is making on the topic at hand.
Meetings can be the most powerful tool in the success of your business. However, like any tool, you can only fully reap the benefits when you use it properly.
We usually think of meetings as a waste of time. Most people say that they only work once all their meetings are over.
I want to encourage you to change this.
Unproductive, poorly designed meetings are a time-waster. Productive meetings are the foundation for team collaboration. They should help us accomplish stuff, not just block our calendar.
ImportantWith the meeting management tips you’ve learned here, you can start planning a meeting that is not just painless but actually a positive experience for your team.
Take a look at your organization this week and review all the scheduled meetings. Are there some meetings that you can cancel and return that time back to productive use?
Step up and take an active role in building a work environment where ineffective meetings are not acceptable.
Doing so will provide your staff the gift of valuable work time by canceling unproductive and unimportant meetings!
What experience do you have with productive meetings that may provide value to other readers?
If you enjoyed the article or have any comments, recommendations, or tips for improvement please do comment below.
Digital Dandy. Hacker From Heart. Workaholic. Coding Artist. Self-made.