Meetings can either be highly productive exchanges of ideas and information among well-informed coworkers or catastrophic time-sucks that waste everyone’s time and leave the team feeling frustrated and angry.
Is that because meetings are inherently volatile structures? Are some meetings fated to be productive while others waste time?
No. It’s because some meetings are well-organized, and others aren’t.
Anyone can learn to host a good meeting, and if you use this guide as a starting point, you should have no trouble optimizing your meetings almost immediately:
Determine If You Really Need a Meeting (Hint: You Probably Don’t)
Your first job should be determining whether you actually need a meeting in the first place. Modern office culture has cemented the “meeting” as a pillar of communication, and as a result, many bosses and supervisors rely on them for even the most basic updates, such as sending out new protocols or “team updates” that happen on a daily basis. Before you follow through on your instinct to send out a meeting invite, ask yourself: Does this meeting really need to happen? Can you get the same information across by sending out a concise, informative email? Can you have a short conference call with two or three people instead of gathering everyone together? If so, there’s no need for a meeting. Congratulations, you just saved yourself and several other people an hour or more.
Invite the Right People
Let’s say you do need to have a meeting. Email and calendar management programs like Outlook have conditioned us to invite everyone we can, checking off names on “suggested” lists and inviting entire departments to attend a meeting. However, every name you click is another chunk of someone’s time you’re taking away. Be sure every person you invite has a good reason to be there, and a means to contribute to the discussion. Don’t invite people just for the sake of having more bodies around the table.
Send Out an Agenda Beforehand
Between the initial invite and the actual meeting, send out an agenda for the meeting. Clearly explain the meeting’s purpose, what you hope to accomplish, and what you expect from each team member. Every team member should be bringing something to the table, whether that’s an idea, a piece of data, or some research – if you can’t think of something for someone to contribute, that person doesn’t need to be invited. Your agenda should let people know what they need to prepare and what they should expect from the meeting, so all your attendees can arrive ready to get down to business.
Set a Firm Time Limit
Firm time limits keep the meeting focused on the main point of discussion. It may surprise you to learn that 15-minute meetings tend to be the most productive; in a world where half-hour to hour-long meetings are the norm, 15 minutes seems insignificant. But when forced into a narrow time constraint, people work quickly to address the task at hand. Your meeting doesn’t have to be 15 minutes, but it does have to start and stop at a specific time to keep everyone invested and moving forward.
Ban Electronic Devices
Smartphones are magnificent innovations, but they’re also a painful distraction in the conference room. Laptops, too, are usually excuses for people to get distracted or multitask other responsibilities. If you want your meeting to be truly productive, ban all electronic devices; ask that your team members leave their phones and laptops at their desks, and encourage note taking with pen and paper. You’ll get much more focus from the group.
Designate a Meeting Leader
Someone should be spearheading the meeting to ensure it follows the outlined agenda and stays within the time limits. It’s easy to get off track when someone goes on a tangent, but the meeting leader can help guide the discussion back to a main point of focus. If the discussion lags, the meeting leader can call out individuals for more thoughts and ideas. The meeting leader can also help take significant notes on the meeting, to be sent out later to all participants.
Send a Recap
Regardless of whether you, your meeting leader, or someone else takes notes during the meeting, you should send a recap email out to everyone in attendance. Summarize the main point of the meeting, outline the main contributions and findings, and end with a bulleted list of action items, assigned to the individuals responsible for their execution. This will ensure that the main points of the meeting hit home with everyone, and add a layer of accountability for everyone who is expected to follow up on tasks and directives.
Ask for Feedback
Just because you think a meeting was productive doesn’t mean it was productive for others. If you want to optimize your meeting’s productivity for everyone involved, ask for anonymous feedback occasionally after meetings. Encourage your workers to give their honest opinions, and you’ll likely discover some new ways to make your meetings even better in the future.
Follow these steps and every meeting your company calls will become inherently more productive. You may notice you have fewer meetings, or more meetings that are shorter, but what really matters is the amount of work you get done and how well your team is able to communicate. With the right protocols in place, you can save hundreds of man-hours per year in canceled or abbreviated meetings, and you’ll end up getting more done too.