This is a two-part series. The first part will cover everything you need to prepare beforehand to ensure an effective meeting. The second part will cover how to run effective meetings and ensure you get results...
We’ve all been there; someone is late, the small talk turns into 15 mins of wasted time, someone is working on their laptop or takes a phone call, multiple people start trying to drive their own agenda, the right people are missing. You walk out with 30 seconds to get to your next meeting and realise you
literally just wasted 60 minutes of your life.
Undeniably, most meetings are highly unproductive and a waste of time.
A survey from Harvard Business Review showed that out of 182 senior managers from a range of industries: “65% said meetings keep them from completing their own work. 71% said meetings are unproductive and inefficient. 64% said meetings come at the expense of deep thinking. 62% said meetings miss opportunities to bring the team closer together.”
Yet, what has been done to change this?
Not much, and that’s precisely the problem.
Meetings are, and will always be, an essential part of our lives, and when executed correctly can drive productivity, improve how your team solves problems, make business critical decisions and realise your business outcomes.
A productive meeting is essential to increase engagement, foster collaboration and create accountability. It also creates a shared sense of purpose amongst team members, promotes innovation and grants opportunities for personal growth.
To run productive and effective meetings, preparation is key. A well planned and agenda oriented meeting saves everyone’s time, and delivers better outcomes. Here are a few tips to help you get started on running any meeting efficiently:
Should This Meeting, Be A Meeting?
Here are some starting questions to ask yourself:
- What is the purpose of this meeting?
- What do I hope to achieve by having this meeting?
- Will the meeting benefit my team or organisation?
- Will the meeting result in clear next steps and a tangible action plan?
To determine whether to have a meeting or not, consider if this could be clarified and conveyed easily via email, a 5 min one-on-one chat or via a collaboration application like Slack or Teams.
Another interesting concept I’ve been reading a lot about lately, are ‘walking meetings’. Could this be the new ‘quick chat at the water cooler’?
If you need to have a quick discussion with a colleague or a check in with a team member, could an impromptu walking meeting replace a scheduled meeting and ultimately save you time? What a great way to combine a quick break and ensure you are still getting stuff done.
So, after asking yourself all these questions, if you can achieve your desired outcomes leveraging any of the above, you might very much find that there is no need to hold a meeting; so don't.
Don’t forget that every meeting comes with a cost; whether that be financial, time or emotional. All of which have an impact on productivity and morale, and won't get you closer to achieving your objectives.
Are You Solving A Problem Or Sharing Status Updates?
According to an article in Forbes, "Businesses spend too much time looking at meetings as a way to share historical information. This means that businesses spend insufficient time focused on the future and how others can help produce results."
Too much time during meetings is spent on status updates. Don’t get me wrong, status updates are critical for all businesses to include and inform others, but they should be shared in a report before a meeting, or via a monthly department or company call that is dedicated to this type of communication.
A meeting should be held, only to discuss solutions to a specific problem, brainstorm new and innovative ideas or collaborate on a strategy that will help you achieve your business goals and remain competitive in your industry.
Is the majority of your meeting time spent discussing tactical updates? If so, change your approach. Try documenting the updates prior to the meeting and share via email.
This will allow you to have a more collaborative and productive meeting, and help you focus on innovative solutions and action plans for the future. If you are trying to solve problems that have occurred, change the narrative of the meeting to simply highlight the challenge, and spend the time collaborating with key stakeholders about potential solutions to drive the business forward.
Set A Clear Plan
Creating a clear plan is key to ensure a successful meeting. It helps to determine the purpose and objectives of the meeting; what needs to be discussed, issues that need to be solved and who should be present for the meeting to achieve results.
Clear objectives also help team members better understand the desired outcomes of the meeting and what is expected of them.
The issue with the way that many meetings are run today is they tend to take too long, involve the wrong people and do not yield results. Therefore, they are generally unproductive and a waste of time.
Setting an agenda serves as a focal point and ensures that the meeting stays on track and you are all working toward the same goal.
Most fundamentally, ensure that it is objective-driven and goal-oriented. Your agenda should include a few clear deliverables to help you achieve your meeting goals; the purpose of the meeting, what you are trying to achieve and what are the agenda items that you need to cover in order to meet those outcomes.
Always set an agenda and share it before every meeting.
Make Meetings More Inclusive
No one wants to join a meeting and listen to one person speak the entire time. Yawn. This almost always results in people disconnecting, multitasking, or simply zoning out – and it ultimately wastes everyone’s time.
As a result, you won’t get the outcome you need, and people walk away wondering what just happened, or even worse, end up feeling overwhelmed thinking about all the other things they could have done instead of wasting time attending your meeting.
Regardless of whether it is a customer, partner, or an internal meeting with colleagues; Keep your attendees engaged. Assign roles to people, ask thoughtful questions, tell them a story that they can relate to so they remain engaged, get their creative juices flowing. Ask them to participate beforehand, by having them prepare something to help you get your desired outcome. This creates a shared sense of purpose and results in a more engaging and productive meeting.
No matter who your audience is, all meetings should foster creativity, innovation, and collaboration. If your attendees are starting to fall asleep, staring out the window or looking at their phone every few minutes, you’ve failed.
8 Is An Ideal Number
Robert Sutton, a professor of organizational behaviour at Stanford University, found that ideally, productive meetings only include 5 to 8 attendees.
In meetings of larger groups, there is a tendency to overlook high property topics since too much time is spent on simply sharing information or getting distracted by the use of mobile devices and other side conversation.
To ensure the right people are present for the meeting, you have to know precisely the agenda for your meeting. Having a clear plan sets the tone and the mindset making sure you've allowed enough time for each discussion.
The first question I always ask myself is “Who are the key people that need to attend in order to achieve my objectives?”
It’s always best to start with a small yet essential group of people. Only add more people if you think they will add value to the conversation or benefit by being there.
Still not sure who to invite? When you circulate the agenda before the meeting, ask the attendees if they have something of value to add to move forward and achieve your goals. If they don’t think they can contribute or don’t find the topics relevant to them, they may not be the right participants.
Be thoughtful with your invite list. Adding a new employee or someone you are training is ok, but don’t invite 3 other people in your team to listen in unless it's crucial, and they can contribute. Karen from Accounting probably doesn’t need to be there if the goal of the meeting is to drive a customer opportunity forward.
Having a host of unnecessary attendees join, ultimately derails the meeting and distracts you from achieving your meeting goals. Remember you can always share the meeting notes and outcomes with a wider audience via email later.
Short & Sweet
In this current day and age, attention spans are getting shorter and shorter. In the UK, a recent survey found that the average attention span for a meeting is 14 minutes long; and that meetings between 15 and 30 minutes work best.
Most of the time, meetings are scheduled for a full hour even though in reality, only 40 mins is required. Scheduling only the time that is necessary forces you and the other participants to stay focused and move the meeting along as planned.
Remember: Your work expands to fill the time allotted for it.
Keeping one eye on the clock ensures that the meeting is running smoothly and on track.
Another great hint? Read the room! If your attendees are flinching in their seats, yawning or giving you the death stare, that’s a sure-fire sign that it’s time to wrap things up.
The research conducted by Professor Sutton talks about "cognitive backlog". Essentially, if a meeting goes on for too long, even if it is well planned, people will get bored and lose attention. I'm sure that's something we can absolutely relate to!
Like any skill, running shorter meetings gets much easier very quickly with a bit of intentional practice.
Never schedule more time than you need.
Didn’t Cover Everything On Your Agenda? That’s Ok!
Always try and give people some very valued time back in their day. You can always schedule a follow up meeting in the next few days, or better yet, migrate the conversation to email or collaboration tools like Slack or Teams.
Your attendees will be grateful, believe me, and will be even more excited to join your follow up session with a fresh sense of motivation.
Personally, I’ve always been a big fan of driving agile meetings. The first item on the agenda for the follow-up, is presenting 1 or 2 slides on the deliverables you achieved in the previous meeting. This shows your attendees that you took action and you appreciate their contributions, and it wasn’t a waste of their time.
If you are consistently going over time, it might be worthwhile asking yourself why and learn from the experience. There is a good chance you are trying to cover too much, you have too many people in the meeting, or you haven’t clearly articulated your meeting goals or aligned them to your agenda.
Be respectful of other people’s time, and ensure your meetings are cultivating engagement.
Warning… Shameless Plug Ahead!
Meetings that kill productivity are prevalent in all our lives. This is an all too common problem, and the catalyst for designing our platform; messeji.
messeji helps people prepare for meetings, drive more effective meetings, while automating and tracking follow-up tasks to keep you organised and ensure you have better outcomes.