Thousands of hours are squandered each year in an activity that is supposed to be productive.
An activity that came from a desire to collaborate, to assist in the decision making process and to add value to our organisations, often has the opposite effect.
Ineffective meetings cost organisations billions in wasted time. They can create conflict and ill will if not managed properly and can delay decision making when lacking leadership.
Meetings can be effective and even fun (yes I said fun!) if organised correctly and managed well. Getting it right, you will be relieved to know doesn’t require any knowledge of Quantum Physics, just a little common sense and commitment.
Here are 7 Habits that you can use to run more productive meetings, but be warned, reading them won’t help your organisation, Implementing them will.
1. Commit to the Preparation
Nobody likes to spend time preparing especially if you are an Activist, but preparation and planning is essential for a meeting to be productive. Time spent in advance thinking about the goal of the meeting, the logistics and the structure will be repaid tenfold. You should never attend a meeting if you haven’t received an agenda in advance, I’m sure you have heard that one before but too many people still run meetings without them, thinking they don’t have time. In reality the traditional agenda wasn’t the most useful, a list of items on a page with no outcome in sight and no time allocated to its discussion.
Agenda items should be clear and have a stated outcome, the meeting organiser should contact the attendees in advance asking them for any agenda items. Rather than have an agenda item which says “HR Policy” you could have “Decision to be made on Future Performance Appraisal policy” Any information that might be relevant for meeting attendees to read should be sent in advance so that everybody has the required knowledge in order to be able to make a decision.
The logistics of a meeting can be important to the outcome. Who will be there, where will it take place, how long should it go on for? The location of a meeting can have an impact on its efficacy. If you are having a creative brainstorming session go to a creative space. If you need to make a decision quickly go to your boardroom and if you need to discuss strategy for the year ahead, choose an external location that will fit the occasion. All of these factors can help to make a meeting more effective.
Parkinson’s law claims that work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion, so if you give a meeting half a day it will take half a day. Most meetings are set for one hour in length, what would happen if you only gave the meeting thirty minutes? Would you finish on time? could you leave out the updates and get straight to the facts? The trick is to allocate as little time as possible but as much as you need. Not easy to estimate but less is always better.
Productive Meetings are well prepared.
2. Have a Clear Purpose
The purpose of most meetings is to make a decision. It is not to update everyone on what’s going on. The traditional memo still has value or in most modern organisations the intranet or team software will do the trick. What most companies find is if they do have a meeting to announce company information, the grapevine has got there before them. When it comes to effective meetings the ones that rank highest are the ones where decisions are made. When the collaborative group are cleverer than the lone ranger. If the purpose of the meeting is clear, the outcomes that are required are known, decision making will become an easier process. Clearly stated agenda items with clearly stated goals will help to avoid any confusion or time wasting discussing items that are not relevant.
Productive Meetings have a clear purpose.
3. Respect time
The first question to ask when preparing a meeting is who needs to be there? People’s time costs money you should only attend a meeting if your input is essential to the outcome. Meetings need to take into account that people are busy, most office workers are overloaded with work and information overload. Meetings often take up to 75% of a middle manager’s schedule. It is time to reduce the amount of meetings in your week as well as the time spent in each meeting.
- Start on time
Meetings need to start on time, regardless of who has shown up. If the meeting time is 1p.m. at 1 p.m. it should start. If you get into the habit of waiting for late comers the people who have arrived on time are being disrespected. When people see time is being adhered to they are less likely to continuously arrive late. Meetings should also end on time.
- Give set time to each agenda item
The best way to make sure all agenda items get air time is to assign a time to each one. Look at the priority of the agenda items and allocate sufficient time for each one to be discussed. When the time is up, you must move on. this habit encourages people to come to the point and hopefully a decision more promptly.
- Stick to the agenda item
The meeting chair should not allow the discussion to go off topic. Meetings can go astray if the attendees jump from topic to topic. Park other topics that arise and agree to discuss at a later stage.
- Don’t allow personalities to hijack the meeting
Meetings can run way over if the chatty person is given the floor. There must be strong leadership to reign in the chatter boxes and keep the meeting on track.
Productive Meetings don’t waste time.
4. Follow up & Review Promptly
Follow up is crucial in order to reaffirm decisions made and who is responsible for what task. Follow up within 24 hours of the meeting to ensure that the attendees have enough time to react and respond to the meeting decisions. Send around the decisions made and the action items generated at the meeting. Advise everyone who is assigned to do what, and by when.
After the meeting is over, the meeting organiser should take some time to review the meeting and decide what went well and what could have been done better. Evaluating the meeting’s effectiveness based on how well the objectives were met. This habit will help to improve the process of running effective meetings.
Productive Meetings have clear follow up actions.
5. Encourage Debate
If you give your time to attend a meeting your input is important, even if you don’t agree with the status quo. It’s important to contribute especially when you don’t agree with the status quo. Conflict is good. Conflict means different opinions and different opinions means that you are looking at an issue from more than one perspective. Good teams engage in debate and conflict to help them come to good decisions. What’s important in this scenario is to have a good meeting host to facilitate and help the decision making process. Patrick Lencioni in his book Death by Meetings claims that it is more important to end a meeting with a resolution then to end on time. This is definitely true when important decisions have to be made, but not all meetings have crucial decisions to be made and to allow all meetings to run over time could be a recipe for disaster.
Productive Meetings encourage healthy debate.
6. Set Meeting Ground rules
It became acceptable in recent years to attend a meeting and not partake in any shape or form. Laptops, then phones and tablets became the norm. People who think they are too busy to go offline for 60 minutes needing to respond to all communications immediately. Those times have changed and the modern organisation recognises the need for presence. If you are going to attend a meeting your attention and focus on the subject of the meeting is required. A lot of organisations create Meeting Ground Rules, some include the following guidelines
- No Gadgets
- Arrive on time
- Come Prepared
- Respect all opinions
- Contribute your opinions
- Commit to follow up actions
Productive Meetings encourage strong ground rules.
7. Air Team Issues
Often meetings are ineffective because there is a deeper issue at play. Teams are a complex organism and finding a team that functions effectively all the time is a rarity. When a team is in dysfunctional mode, team meetings will not be effective. Try to sort out issues before trying to get the team together to make important decisions.
Productive meetings happen when teams are working effectively together.
Creating productive habits for meetings will help you to have a more Productive Organisation, introduce these habits to your team and say goodbye to time wasting meetings forever!
Do you have any productive meeting habits in your organisation? I’d love to hear your tips.