We spend a lot of our time at work in meetings. As if you didn’t know. While the usually accepted figure is 11 million meetings a day in the U.S., Elise Keith argues that the true number is between 36.5m and 55m. Think about that for a moment.
Keith also estimates the cost of bad or ineffective meetings Keith is between $70 billion and $283bn, and not the often quoted figure of $37bn. Whatever the amount, it still adds up to a huge number.
Of course, many meetings are productive, but take a look at some of the sobering statistics from a survey by Salary.com:
- 37% of employee time is spent in meetings
- 47% say too many meetings are a waste of time
- 39% of participants said they dozed off during a meeting
There are many reasons why we hold meetings, from planning to reviewing, to providing feedback, etc. So, how do you make them productive rather than tedious, time-consuming, costly (participants are costing their employers money and time to be there) and frustrating?
Here are some suggestions:
1. Do you really need a meeting?
Yes, you really need to ask this question. Could the issue be resolved without the need to drag people to a meeting? Sometimes when you ask yourself if there is really a need, you might find you can achieve the objective without a meeting.
2. Have a standup meeting
Instead of everyone sitting down, why not make it a standup. That’s sure to keep everyone focused and signals that this is not meant to be a long rambling affair.
3. Let’s go for a walk
Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Jack Dorsey of Twitter both favor walking meetings. Check out just about any episode of The West Wing TV series and you’ll find White House staff engaged in quick meetings as they walk.
4. Set the agenda
Simple, yet so effective. Let all participants know in advance what the agenda will be, and the fewer points the better. Email/text everyone in advance. Send an email/text reminder beforehand, and if weighty matters are up for consideration ask people to be prepared.
5. Start on time
If the meeting is set for 9am then it should start then – no exceptions. Don’t delay for stragglers, so everyone gets the message there’s an agenda to get through and a finite time in which to do it. Everyone’s time is precious, not just yours.
6. Lock the door
Latecomers can distract when they arrive, and take a little time to catch up, so prevent all that by closing the the door and not admitting anyone after the starting time. Let’s face it, the offender will never repeat the error, and word will get around that when a meeting is called you mean business.
7. Schedule it for the morning
The best time to schedule a meeting is the morning, not the afternoon. Post-lunch some people tend to be less productive, whereas in the morning their energy and concentration levels are higher.
8. Limit speaking time
Sometimes discussions can drag on and threaten to derail the meeting. If you want to get through the agenda then you need to limit the discussion, come to a decision and move on. No, ifs, buts or maybes.
9. Don’t allow one speaker to dominate
Ah yes, we all know one or two of these characters who love sharing their opinions – and objections – at meetings. They end up dominatingand alienating others who might want to speak but can’t get a word in. This is where you can intervene and ask others for their opinion.
10. Avoid distractions
- Pick the right venue: Make sure your choice of venue is comfortable and the right size. Sticking everyone in a small room with poor air conditioning/heating, for example, will make people uncomfortable and less focused.
- Switch off smartphones: Make it a rule that phones are switched off. People constantly checking up on emails or notifications is a big issue, so tell everyone to turn them off before the meeting begins.
- Cut the chat: Chatter between participants while someone else is speaking on an agenda topic is very distracting, so make it clear it won’t be tolerated.
11. Finish On Time
If you say the meeting will last only 15 minutes long, then make sure it ends on time. If you’ve overrun the time people will lose interest. They may have other tasks to work on and you’re delaying them. The longer the meeting lasts the more risk of people losing focus.
12. Let’s take a break
Long meetings are unavoidable occasionally. Sometimes they can take up a whole morning, or even a day, so breaking the meeting down into scheduled breaks for tea/coffee or lunch is essential to fuel up energy levels and maintain interest in what’s important – the agenda.
13. No props please
Some people love PowerPoint presentations at meetings, but others find them distracting and repetitive. As Richard Branson says, “If anybody ever puts the words they’re about to tell me up onto a screen, I’m tempted to walk out.”
If you set out the parameters for each meeting clearly, starting with a proper agenda and a determination to stick to it, keep the schedule on track and watch the time, then you’re well on the way to having a productive meeting. Good luck!
Do you have other suggestions to make meetings more productive?