Humorist Dave Barry wrote, “If you had to identify, in one word, the reason why the human race has not achieved, and never will achieve, its full potential, that word would be ‘meetings.”
Unfortunately, there are a lot of people who agree with him. In fact, if I had to name the most common complaint I have heard from executives during my career, it’s that they are subjected to too many meetings. Regardless of the industry or organizational size, busy workers often wistfully lament that they don’t have any time to do actual work, because all of their time is swallowed up by inefficient meetings.
Let’s face it — meetings are a necessity in business. However, they don’t have to be the frustrating time-wasters that become the bane of many professionals’ existence. Instead, when they are approached correctly, they can be a time for productive problem-solving, decision-making, and information-sharing. Apply these six tips and watch your meetings magically transform from dull into dynamic.
1. CLARIFY THE PURPOSE OF THE MEETING
All too often, people can end up leaving a meeting confused or dissatisfied because the purpose was unclear. Is the meeting designed to determine a long-term strategic initiative? Is it for reporting out on progress? Is it to deal with an immediately pressing tactical issue? Making sure that people understand why they are there and the desired outcomes sets expectations and allows people to fulfill their roles as needed.
2. DETERMINE THE APPROPRIATE MEETING LENGTH
Many executives complain that there are few things worse than having a meeting just for the sake of having a meeting. If you don’t have enough content for the normal length, why not shorten or cancel it? On the other hand, if you are working through an in-depth problem that requires brainstorming and strategic thought, trying to pack all of that into an hour is going to be a recipe for sub-optimal outcomes. Thus, once you have determined the meeting purpose, make sure the time you allot to it aligns accordingly.
3. SET AN AGENDA
If applicable, send out an agenda ahead of time. Not only does this help to keep people on-task during the meeting, it is also of particular help to the introverts in the room, who are often at their best when they have had some time to process information ahead of time. If there are particular agenda items for which a decision needs to be made, you might want to note that. This little step can avoid the phenomenon of having a lot of discussion in a meeting, without a clear conclusion. Agendas can also help to cut down on meetings, because if you realize the agenda items are few, you can determine whether or not you need to have the meeting at all.
4. CONSIDER HAVING A PROCESS OBSERVER
To enhance efficiency, you can assign someone to be the process observer of the meeting. This person would have the role of keeping track of time to ensure that important agenda items are addressed. While one obviously has to have some flexibility (i.e. if an important issue comes up, you don’t want to cut it off just because the allotted time has passed), it helps to ensure that everyone is making well-informed choices about how time is being spent. The process observer can also keep an eye out for how people are interacting with each other, and check in with those who may look like they have something to contribute, but may be having difficulty getting a word in edge-wise relative to more dominant group members.
5. TAKE TIME FOR SOCIAL INTERACTION
It can be beneficial to allow some time at the beginning of the meeting for people to be able to casually relate to one another. While some may see this as a waste of time, it actually creates a sense of camaraderie and helps to relax people and put them in a more positive mood. Research shows that when people are experiencing more positive emotion, they tend to think in broader ways with more creativity. So, a little levity at the beginning of the meeting can actually help it to be more productive.
6. ALLOT TIME AT THE END TO REVIEW KEY TAKEAWAYS
Have someone announce decisions that have been made, go-forward actions, accountabilities, communications that need to be cascaded down, and agreed upon timelines. This helps to ensure that everyone is on the same page about actions that should follow the meetings, and clarifies who is responsible for what. It is also a great way to hold people accountable, since everyone in the room has been privy to their colleagues’ commitments.
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