There’s more unproductive time spent in meetings than any other form of business activity. A recent survey by Management Today suggests that at least a quarter of the time you spend in meetings is a waste.
Here’s a few ideas to make your meetings more effective.
1. Start them at quarter past the hour.
Ever heard somebody say “I’ve got back-to-back meetings all day”. Very commendable but when will they prepare for the next meeting or make sense of the last one or actually get any work done?
Start meetings at quarter past the hour but still finish on the hour. You’ll get exactly the same amount achieved in the meeting but you’ll have an extra 15 minutes to do the things that matter.
If you’re feeling particularly brave you can even start at 25 minutes past the hour!
2. Never assign an action to “all”.
Dead simple tip this, but a very effective one.
When writing up the minutes to a meeting NEVER put “all” next to any of the actions.
The vast majority of people will read “all” and translate it in their heads into “somebody else”.
If lots of people have to do an action make one person in the meeting responsible for making sure they all do it and put their name next to the action.
3. Start with some good news.
If you have regular monthly meetings try starting them with each attendee saying one positive thing that has happened since the last meeting. Best if it relates to work but if they can’t think of anything then it’s OK to recount a personal “win”.
I’m not one of your happy-clappy types but this really does lift the energy in the room and get the meeting off to a great start.
Warning: some people will bang on a bit here so it has to be timed. I suggest 30 seconds each with a bell to signify times-up.
4. Separate actions from minutes.
Most recurring meetings start with a look at the minutes from the last meeting. This is a bad idea because minutes tend to record actions, notes and agreed decisions. There is a tendency for people to re-discuss notes and decisions given the chance, which is largely a waste of time.
Instead separate out the actions into an action log (what, who and when for) and only discuss the actions due by the date of the meeting.
5. Record the minutes electronically
This can slow down a meeting a little bit, unless you invite an assistant to take down the minutes, but typing them into a Word document or Excel spreadsheet during the meeting has one massive benefit.
You can have the minutes in the inbox of the attendees within the hour. Research tells us that the sooner people receive confirmation of actions they’ve agreed to do, the more likely they are to do them.
6. Always distribute all meeting papers 3 days in advance.
A meeting has been arranged to discuss an important proposal. The night before the meeting the proposal appears in the inboxes of the attendees or worse still is handed out at the beginning of the meeting.
So people have to either read, digest and evaluate the contents of the document almost instantly or a decision is made without people really understanding what’s at stake. Professional? I think not.
All meeting papers including the agenda, previous actions and discussion papers should be in the inbox of each attendee 3 working days before the meeting.
7. Try and do without a meeting in the first place.
Thought I’d save the best one until last.
Many people call a meeting because they just can’t be arsed to figure out the problem or don’t want to take responsibility for a decision. This is unacceptable; so the next time somebody suggests a meeting on something you feel they should be able to tackle themselves try something like this: –
“Can we have a meeting to discuss how we’re going to handle that so-and-so issue?”
“OK but what’s your suggestion on how we should deal with it?”
“I think we should do this that and the other” – “great – sounds like a plan. Off you go then” or
“I’m not sure” – “well have a think about it and get back to me with your suggestions”
Always challenge a meeting you don’t think is relevant because if you don’t, its a dead cert, nobody else will!
You can download a PDF version of this article here.