Making Meetings More Effective
MEETINGS PUT TEAMS TO WORK – Meetings are the primary forum in which groups conduct business and communicate with one another. Poorly run meetings are routine; instead of contributing to an organization’s efficiency and effectiveness, most meetings make employees less efficient and less effective.
WHAT’S WRONG WITH MEETINGS? – Meeting experts have determined that approximately 53 percent of all the time spent in meetings is unproductive, worthless, and of little consequence. But why do so many meetings go so wrong, and is there something you can do to fix them within your organization? Let see a few of the reasons:
- Too many meetings take place. It seems like someone in every organization is having a meeting almost every day for some reason or another, whether the topic of the meeting is important enough to merit it. The result? A lot of time spent in meetings and not so much time getting actual work done. It’s no surprise that many people find themselves thinking (often out loud), “How am I supposed to get any work done with all these meetings?”
- The meeting starts late. The tendency is to wait for those people who are late, especially if that includes your boss or someone of higher rank in the organization. Unfortunately, this wastes the time of all those who are waiting, essentially punishing them for being on time and rewarding those who were late, making it even easier for them (and others) to be late the next time as well.
- The meeting has no focus. Does every meeting you attend have an agenda and a clear plan for getting from the beginning to the end? If you answered “yes,” then we would be very surprised indeed. Most often, meetings are a proliferation of personal agendas, digressions, diversions, off-topic tangents, and worse. These results all serve to throw meetings out of focus, off track, and into the annals of countless other worthless wastes of time.
- Attendees are unprepared. Often individuals come unprepared and may not even know why they’ve been invited to attend. This means that precious time is wasted either bringing all the attendees up to speed on the issues, or attendees simply mentally check out of the meeting, imagining all the things they could be doing with the time they are wasting in the meeting!
- Certain individuals dominate the proceedings. It seems that there’s always someone in a meeting (in large meetings, more than one person) who decides to be the star of the show and to make his or her points as loudly and as often as possible. Aside from their obnoxious behavior, the problem is that these individuals often intimidate the other participants and stifle their contributions—not the outcome you need to accomplish the goals of the meeting.
- The meeting lasts too long. Rather than let the participants leave after the business at hand is completed, most meeting leaders allow meetings to expand to fill the time allotted to them. The result is that meetings often drag on and on and on—well past the time when they have stopped being productive.
THE EIGHT KEYS TO GREAT MEETINGS – Although many meetings are a waste of time, they don’t have to be. Here’s what we’ve found to be the most useful advice for having more effective meetings:
- Be prepared. It takes only a little time to prepare for a meeting, and the payoff is well worth it—significantly increased meeting effectiveness. This should include an initial chairperson’s orientation speech in which you summarize the reason the group is meeting and the desired decisions or actions that will result.
- Have an agenda. An agenda—the plan for your meeting—is essential. Even better, distribute the agenda to participants before the meeting. This way, meeting participants can be prepared for the meeting in advance, and you’ll multiply its effectiveness many times over.
- Start on time and end on time. Every meeting should have established start and end times. Be sure to start your meetings at the appointed time, and run no longer than the established end time. Sure, you can occasionally make exceptions to the end rule when meeting participants agree to extend the meeting, but you’ll start losing participant effectiveness as they begin to worry about other commitments.
- Have fewer but better meetings. Schedule meetings only when they are absolutely necessary. At all costs, avoid standing meetings such as, “We’ll meet every Tuesday at 2 P.M.,” which encourages meeting for meeting’s sake, instead of with a clear sense of purpose. And when you call a meeting, make sure that it has an agenda and that you do whatever you can to keep it on track and effective. And if the reason for calling a meeting is resolved prior to the start time, cancel it. Everyone will be impressed and grateful that you did.
- Think inclusion, not exclusion. Don’t just invite anyone and everyone to your meetings—select only those participants necessary to get the job done. Likewise, don’t exclude people who need to be present for the matters being discussed. Then make sure all who are invited know why and what is expected of them when they attend. This helps them each to prepare and to bring the appropriate information with them.
- Maintain focus. Stay on topic at all times and avoid the temptation to get off track or to follow interesting (but unproductive) digressions that take you no closer to solving the issues that were the reason for meeting in the first place. Digressions and off-topic discussions might be entertaining, but they are a waste of time for everyone involved. Stick to the topic and the timelines you set for each item on the agenda.
- Capture action items. Have a system for capturing, summarizing, and assigning action items to individual team members, which can often be handled by assigning roles to attendees such as scribe, timekeeper, and summarizer. And be sure to follow up team member progress on assigned action items to ensure that they get done.
- Get feedback. Remember: Feedback is the breakfast of champions. Feedback tells you not only what you did right but also what you did wrong—providing you with strong ideas on how to make your future meetings more effective. Request meeting participants to give you their candid feedback—verbally or in writing—and then be sure to use it. The more suggestions you implement, the more you’ll get from your employees.
Excerpt from “THE MANAGEMENT BIBLE” BOB NELSON, PETER ECONOMY