MEETINGS, in essence, are meant to boost productivity and efficiency. When everyone is on the same page and aware of what should be done, even the most challenging tasks can be completed.
Meetings are an inevitable part of our everyday working life. They can either be productive, collaborative forums that help drive a business or project forward or time-eating, soul-crushing events that swamp everyone’s day and stifle progress.
I’ve heard many folks bemoan the fact that they’ve been so tied up in meetings that they haven’t gotten any “real work” done. Truth is, meetings should be part of the “real work,” and if they’re not, then something needs fixing.
In reality, we find ourselves stuck at unproductive meetings, week after week.
The average executive spends 18 hours a week at meetings. Almost half of all attendees say that meetings are the number one time waster at work.
Not only can meetings be a waste of time, but if not planned efficiently, they’re actually a waste of money, too. A study of time budgeting found that a single weekly meeting of mid-level managers cost an organization $15Million a year!
Interested in how much you’re spending on meetings, and how much you could be saving? Try this meeting cost calculator by Harvard Business Review.
At INLOGIC, we’re all about time management, and we put a lot of effort into having effective meetings. Insanely productive meetings mean that there’s less of them – last year we spent only 6,380 combined hours at meetings!
Love them or hate them, you can’t completely eliminate meetings. So, it’s important to make them as useful and constructive as possible.
The following tips are primarily aimed at team meetings owned by project management professionals or other project team leaders. With some tailoring, these tips can be applied to most business meetings as they represent best practice principles which will ideally be embedded in the corporate culture.
Here are 12 tips to make the most of your meetings:
1- Decide if you really need the meeting
Before setting up a meeting, ask yourself if it’s really needed. Weigh up the meeting cost in man hours against the anticipated value it will add. This seems like a no-brainer but it’s very easy with repetitive meetings to just keep doing them because they’re scheduled rather than because they’re worthwhile.
It’s easier to assess value with one-off meetings arranged to arrive at a defined outcome than it is with regular status meetings that have a more open-ended agenda. So, it’s a judgment call but one that should be made prior to scheduling any meeting.
2- Obtain Written Agenda in Advance
Vague intentions to have a discussion on a topic rarely end on a productive note. If you are just getting started with agendas, start with a point form list of topics to be discussed and make sure that material is provided to attendees at least one day before the meeting. For better results, provide background information on the agenda so that everyone attending has the same information.
What about when you are asked to attend a meeting without an agenda? Ask, “Can you please send me an agenda for the meeting so that I can prepare?”
The agenda should include:
- A list of topics to be covered.
- A brief description of the meeting’s objectives.
- A list of people attending the meeting.
- Who will address each topic?
- The time and location of the meeting.
- Any background information participants need to know about the subject.
What’s the most important thing you should do with your agenda? Follow it closely!
3- Meet Outside the Office
When tired faces, low energy, and lack of ideas start to appear at meetings, it’s a sign that it’s time to take the meeting outside. An off-site session is perfect for avoiding meeting fatigue.
Take your staff to the nearby cafe, to the park or even a bar. Sometimes a change of scenery is all that’s needed for bringing energy and good ideas back to the table.
After the meeting, follow up on your team if they enjoyed the change of pace and found it constructive. If not, try something else – it’s never a complete waste of time!
4- Review the Attendee List
The people in the meeting room make or break your effectiveness. If the key person – a manager or executive – is not present in a meeting, as a result, no significant decisions can be made.
For Meeting Organizers: limit the number of people attending the meeting. The purpose of meetings is to make decisions and get work done. For the most part, meetings are not the best way to simply share information (exception: meetings are helpful to share sensitive information)
For Meeting Attendees: read the attendee list before you walk into the room. Do you see any unfamiliar names? If so, consider looking them up in your organization’s directory (or on LinkedIn). Surprises are not your friend when it comes to meetings.
5- Organize the information
Prepare and publish any supporting information early so it can be reviewed by the attendees ahead of the meeting. You’re unlikely to get sign-off on a 200-page technical spec if the first version they see is the monster hard copy you hand out at the start.
6- Manage the Meeting by the Clock
Watching the clock is important in an effective meeting. When nobody takes charge of managing time, it is easy to become careless and unfocused. Remember – when people attend a meeting, they cannot do anything else. Make the time count!
For Meeting Organizers: starting the meeting on time and ending on time (or a few minutes early!) will quickly enhance your reputation as an organized person. If you are running a large or complex meeting, consider asking a colleague to serve as time keeper. If managing meetings to the clock is challenging for you.
For Meeting Attendees: start by arriving early at the meeting (5 minutes for in person meetings and 1-2 meetings for conference calls). That means avoiding back to back commitments on your calendar whenever possible.
7- Have engaging meetings
If you pick your attendees correctly, everyone will get something valuable from the meeting, making the time not only well-spent but interesting. Encourage free thinking and free speaking. Ask the group for ideas and opinions; don’t just talk at them and make it all about you.
Bear in mind that not everyone is comfortable airing ideas or opinions in a group so ask for feedback from the room rather than individuals. And in the end, get assigned commitment—actions should always have an owner and an agreed deadline for completion.
8- Keep meetings on track
Don’t lose sight of what the meeting is there to achieve—the agenda is there for a reason. If other topics crop up, note them and park them for when time allows. Don’t get into long-winded technical discussions that tie up the whole team yet are of value to only a few. (Otherwise you’ll soon have half the room mentally drifting off and composing shopping lists or going for a jog in their head).
Regular team catch-ups can quickly turn into “this is everything we’re doing today” type reviews rather than just focusing on the key headlines of group interest. Focus on wins, issues and risks—all those things that can and will affect project outcome.
9- Take Notes for Yourself
Taking notes in meetings is an essential skill yet I am often struck by how often people forget to do it. The key reason to take notes in a meeting is to record any questions or assignments that have been directed to you. Let’s look at how attendees and organizers can act on notes.
Take notes in a paper notebook rather than using a computer, tablet or other device. Even if you have fantastic abilities to focus on the meeting, other people may assume that you are “catching up on email” instead of paying attention to the meeting if you take notes on a computer.
Taking notes for Meeting Organizers: if you plan to send minutes or a summary of the meeting to attendees, say this at the start of the meeting and explain what you will include. Sending out meeting minutes, even a few paragraphs or bullet points, is a best practice.
10- Don’t Forget the Q&A
All managers claim to have an open-door policy. As good as it may make the manager look, practice shows that the vast majority of attendees aren’t taking advantage of it. It’s up to the manager to actually engage employees. And meetings are an excellent place for practicing the skill.
The Q&A session is often pushed to the end of a meeting, leaving just a couple of minutes for it. However, this segment is just as important as the rest of the meeting. When a concrete action plan is set up at the meeting, but follow-up questions are left unanswered, the result can spell disaster. It is ineffective the least.
To ensure more meaningful engagement, consider extending Q&A session to match the length of the meeting. You might even consider switching up the overall format, with a short meeting intro followed by a longer Q&A. Depending on the meeting type, this could create a virtuous cycle, and help with building an enthusiastic team.
Another tip is collecting the questions about the topic in advance. This can help on several levels: The manager can plan their talk more effectively, and the team will have the time to consider ideas instead of scrambling to come up with questions at the end of a meeting.
11- Finish on time
A late-running meeting can impact all kinds of other scheduled activities. If the meeting hasn’t produced the desired results, schedule another. Otherwise, you might rush to come up with a half-baked solution in the dying seconds. And that’s probably not what the meeting was about in the first place.
Taking notes for Meeting Attendees: bring a copy of the agenda and use that document to guide your note taking. Focus on the decisions made in the meeting and items that require further investigation or action on your part.
12- Follow Up on the Meeting
The art and science of follow up is vital professional habit and it also matters in the context of meetings. When it comes to meeting tips, following up in a timely basis is a great way to manage stress and make a good impression on others. For the best results, I suggest following up the same day as the meeting. For very important matters, make a note on your calendar or task management tool of choice to continue following up until you reach a resolution.
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