Making the Most of Meetings

June 6, 2016 | Leadership

“Let’s have a meeting.”

Every day those four little words strike dread into the hearts of office workers around the world.

While teamwork and collaboration are fundamental cornerstones for any successful enterprise, the fact remains: most meetings suck. They have a tendency to be overlong, unproductive, and boring.

It’s a very common perception: studies show that 25-50% of meeting time is wasted, according to most professionals. 91% of those surveyed admitted to daydreaming in meetings and 39% say they have even fallen asleep! People are most frustrated by late start times, a lack of structure, and meetings that run too long. Most people simply do not enjoy wasting their time in meetings.

So how can we, as leaders, transform the meetings we hold from exercises in torture into effective, inspiring engagements that are actually effective at moving our team forward towards our goals?

The key to a successful meeting is to keep it SHORT and FOCUSED!

Keepin’ it Short

The Agile development method, which has become a foundation of many creative and technical teams, revolves largely around the concept of having “stand-up meetings.” In a pure stand-up, everyone literally stands up, which is supposed to keep energy levels high and the desire to settle in and drone on and on at a minimum. The Agile rule of thumb is that no meeting should be more than 20 minutes long since the average attention span is only 20 minutes.

One easy way to cut down meeting time is to dispense with the formalities. The leader’s introduction and the other mundane details should be kept to a minimum. Jump right into the fray and start the discussion that everyone is there to have right away. If there is disagreement or an impasse, table the discussion and set up a time for a follow-up meeting so that everyone can get together and work out those disagreements more naturally throughout the course of the workday.

Focus!

Get the agenda to all the attendees ahead of time and make sure it’s tied to a very specific topic. Just like a high school essay, every meeting should have one “big idea.” Trying to tackle more than one issue in a single meeting is most likely unrealistic, so rather than having one huge 90 minute meeting where half the content will be irrelevant to half the people, instead opt for smaller, shorter meetings where everyone present has a direct stake in what’s being discussed.

The meeting should start promptly, whether everyone is there or not. Quickly recap the topic of the meeting then get to work!

Of course off-topic issues will arise. Write them down and email them out to all the attendees so they can be tracked and follow-up meetings can be organized if necessary, but don’t let the discussion get sidetracked!

End the meeting on time, as well. If no decision is made then it probably means that more research or “think time” needs to be devoted between now and a follow-up meeting for the problem to be properly addressed. Thank everyone, email out the notes, and then let everyone move on with the workday!

Next Actions are Key!

The “product” of a meeting is a list of action items. Each action should be clearly defined with all of the following components:

  • WHAT needs to be done?
  • WHO needs to do it?
  • WHEN will it be done?

If all of these elements are not present, it is not a true action item. If no action items come out of the meeting, it was a waste of time, plain and simple. Nobody likes a boring meeting-leader, and wasting time is poisonous to all undertakings… so this is a vital skill to master for anyone who wants to succeed regardless of profession!

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