Meetings can be among the biggest time and energy suckers in an organization if you let them be. According to a survey done by the Harvard Business Review, over 70% of senior managers consider meetings to be unproductive and ineffective. Additionally, 65% of the respondents said meetings routinely hindered them from completing their own work.
What’s more, meetings can be not only time wasters but also money wasters. According to a study carried out by Bain & Company, weekly meetings of mid-level managers cost organizations up to $15 million a year in lost productivity.
Nevertheless, meetings have their place in organizations. They can be the birthplace of groundbreaking ideas or solutions to major problems. That is because meetings allow you to take advantage of the combined creativity and experience of your team in a single room.
If one member has a half-baked solution, the other members’ creativity can help take that idea to the next stage. What’s more, the brainstorming and collaboration that can happen in a meeting save a lot of time and effort.
If that is the case, why are meetings considered unproductive? For starters, most meetings are unnecessary, to begin with. Having a meeting should never itself be the goal. You should not hold a meeting just to pass information, which, unfortunately, is the reason for most meetings taking place. A meeting should have a specific goal in the larger context of making the business successful.
How to Run Quick and Effective Meetings
An unnecessarily lengthy and ineffective meeting is a waste of crucial resources. Also, a meeting that ends up solving an irrelevant problem is ineffective and unjustifiable. The following are 8 steps to run an effective meeting.
- Set The Agenda and Expectations Before the Meeting Begins
What is the purpose of the meeting? Are you looking to gather information, generate new ideas, or make a decision?
Remember, if you are not sure about what you want to accomplish in the meeting, you can be certain you will achieve nothing. As such, the most crucial factor for a productive and successful meeting is having a concrete agenda, a clear goal or objective you want to accomplish.
Therefore, the purpose of a meeting should never be to share information – that is what emails are for. In the same light, a meeting is not a social gathering.
At the very least, the purpose of a meeting should be to provide an avenue for a productive discussion that cannot be held asynchronously via email. However, the most critical function of a meeting should be to create an idea, solve a problem, or make a decision collaboratively.
Therefore, evaluate your agenda to see whether it is worth the resulting cost in lost productivity from pulling people off their desks.
- Circulate the agenda, any preparatory documents, and any important proposal before the meeting.
Once you have a clear agenda, distribute copies of the agenda, as well as other documents in advance to all the relevant parties. Make sure to enunciate the goal of the meeting and the anticipated outcomes.
Doing that allows team members to prepare talking points, ideas, and potential arguments, resulting in a productive meeting. Circulating the agenda in advance also prevents the meeting from veering off track, allowing you to stick to the time limit.
Some of the items to include in the agenda include:
- Time and location
- A brief summary of the meeting’s objectives
- A list of the attendees
- Topics to be covered
- Who will address each topic
- Any other information the attendees should know beforehand
Everyone should come to the meeting only after reading the agenda and other required documentation. This ensures the time spent in the meeting is only on discussions and tasks which can’t happen asynchronously.
For impromptu meetings, consider allowing the participants between 10 and 15 minutes to digest the meeting’s agenda and other preparatory documents before beginning it officially.
- Invite only those people who are needed
Meetings are expensive, as they use the productive time of every participant. Therefore, you want to keep the number of attendees at a minimum. Nonetheless, you also want to have diverse perspectives and ideas in the meeting.
To find that balance, only invite people whose skills or knowledge is beneficial to the agenda. As mentioned, the purpose of meetings is to create solutions, not share information. Consequently, inviting people who cannot make significant contributions to the meeting’s topics is simply a waste of time.
Consider using Jeff Bezos’ Two Pizza Rule, which states that a meeting should not have more participants than can be fed by a pair of pepperoni pies. Having fewer people in your meeting not only allows you to save time and money but also promotes faster decision-making.
Managers should also ensure decision-making is delegated to their team and responsible people. If this is done well, the manager need not attend every meeting of their team and can focus their time on other important issues. A delegation of decision-making not only increases autonomy and accountability it also makes meetings shorter and smaller.
- Keep the meeting short.
You will note that your team’s attention typically begins to wane about 30 minutes into the meeting. It is not that they are distracted or bored; there are simply trying to process everything. Consequently, the longer the meeting goes, the less productive it becomes since people are no longer actively engaged.
According to studies, the longest time people can remain genuinely engaged in a subject is 52 minutes. Therefore, one of the best ways of improving the effectiveness of your meetings is by keeping them short.
Do not do standard 1 hour or 90-minute meetings as is the norm in many companies. Schedule meetings for the time you think are appropriate – even if it is 10 or 20 minutes. A duration of 15 to 45 minutes is sufficient for 95% of the meetings you might want to have if you have done the other steps in this list well.
What’s more, short meetings force you to condense your agenda to only topics that matter. Keeping your meetings short also shows your team members that you value their time. Most importantly, it ensures that you do not lose many productive hours in the process.
- End every meeting with a few action points with clear owners. Who is responsible for what by when?
Too often, people come from meetings feeling like they were just in another social gathering, as they have no idea who will work on what to bring the meeting’s objectives into fruition.
Therefore, to prevent that from happening, make sure to assign actionable follow-up tasks at the end of the meeting. Be specific about each person’s responsibilities so that everyone knows what they are accountable for.
When people know there are follow-up tasks after each meeting, it brings clarity and accountability. If a group of people is responsible for doing something, then no one is responsible. Ending meetings with action points also helps team members to prepare for any follow-up meetings.
- Have follow-up discussions and feedback via email asynchronously before organizing another meeting.
How many times have you walked out of the same meeting with your colleague, only to discover you came out with entirely different interpretations of what went on? Needless to say, it is a common occurrence since human beings are subjective beings.
Different interpretations, when left unclarified, can be a huge impediment to the company’s progress, as everyone needs to be on the same page for the organization to achieve its goals.
Therefore, it is important to document all the important discussion points, assigned roles and responsibilities, and deadlines, and share with everyone via email. While at it, ask for feedback about the meeting. This will allow you to know whether everyone is on the same page.
It is also a good idea to let your team know that you (or an assigned note-taker) will be distributing that information after the meeting. Doing that will increase engagement tremendously, as it will free them from having to take notes during the meeting.
- Use clear and crisp language. Do not tolerate vague statements full of jargon.
As mentioned earlier, people can come out of the same meeting with different interpretations of what was discussed. One of the biggest causes of misinterpretations is the use of vague statements and jargon.
Unfortunately, the use of business jargon and technical language is common. That is because people mistakenly believe that using fancy terms makes them sound well informed. As such, many people use jargon to impress others rather than bring clarity.
As you can imagine, jargon is a hindrance to productivity. The following are some of the reasons why jargon and vague statements should be avoided in a meeting.
Jargon Causes Confusion
Often, people overuse jargon to a point where one statement can mean different things. For example, while phrases such as “burning platform” or “drinking the Kool-aid” might be familiar to your team, they may not know what to make of them since those phrases carry both positive and negative connotations.
Unfortunately, more often than not, people will not ask you to explain what you meant. Consequently, they end up deriving their own conclusions from what they think you meant.
Jargon Can be Offending
The unfortunate thing about most jargon is that most people learn it from others and start using it without looking deeper into its origins. As a result, people use several terms and phrases in the workplace innocently without knowing they are highly offensive to some individuals.
It can Lead to Costly Mistakes
To avoid confusion and misinterpretations, explain to your team members that jargon is unacceptable in meetings or work documents. Encourage them to strive for clarity and simplicity instead of trying to impress. Doing that will ensure smooth and effective communication.
- Be strict with start and end times. Keep a no-distractions rule. No coffee or electronic devices. If required, remove all chairs from meeting rooms to keep the meetings crisp and to the point.
Meetings are expensive. Therefore, you want to make every minute spent in a meeting count. One way to do that is by being strict with start and end times. Doing that will let people know that the designated meeting time is to be respected.
Distractions are one of the biggest hindrances to productive meetings. Distractions typically result from the need to multitask. For instance, some people might use their time in the meeting to respond to emails or check their phones while thinking they are not missing out on anything.
According to experts, multitasking makes an individual less effective, increases their stress levels, costing the global economy approximately $450 billion a year. And that’s not all. According to a Harvard Business Review report, multitasking can lead to a 40% drop in productivity and a 10-point drop in IQ.
Take steps to proactively prevent distractions in your meetings, as they can have a significant impact. You can do that by:-
Give each member a task to perform in the meeting. For example, one could facilitate the meeting, and another can take notes. Assigning roles ensures everyone stays focused on the proceedings.
Have a Timed Agenda
Give each discussion point a timeframe to ensure that all issues are discussed within the meeting’s timeframe.
Discourage Phone and Laptop Use
Unless required for the meeting itself, ask people not to engage with any devices during the meeting. This will eliminate distractions from notifications from new emails or messages unrelated to the topic of the meeting.
It might sound like an extreme step but you can remove all chairs from meeting rooms to shake people off their bad meeting habits. Standing meetings convey urgency, forcing people to develop ideas or make decisions quickly. As you can imagine, you are less likely to be distracted when you are in a stand-up meeting.
Meetings can provide an avenue for collaboration, allowing team members to brainstorm and come up with practical solutions which are not possible individually. However, meetings can also be one of the biggest time and money suckers in an organization without the right approach. The above steps will help make your meetings quicker and more effective at the same time.