For most people in the corporate world, meetings are a necessary evil. Let’s admit it. Sometimes, they feel more “evil” than “necessary”.
If you’ve been working long enough, you’ve probably been in enough meetings that felt like they were going nowhere. Worse, these meetings might have very little participation at all, with just one or two people dominating the discussion.
You’re not alone if you feel meetings are a waste of time. The Harvard Business Review claims that executives spend 23 hours a week in meetings, and that’s just for scheduled ones. Around 65% of the senior managers the HBR interviewed said meetings kept them from doing actual work, while 39% say that they’ve dozed off at meetings..
Meetings don’t have to be long, dragging, and boring. There are ways to make meetings actually productive. Here are 5 tips your organisation can use to transform the way you do meetings.
A meeting is only as effective as the people who attend it. If you intend to come up with a decision, you should ensure that the key people, whether they’re executives or managers, are invited and have confirmed their attendance. Otherwise, you can’t make any decisions.
Limiting the number of attendees to 8 at most is also a smart way of ensuring that meetings are short and productive. Too many attendees means too many opinions going around. Only a few of those opinions will matter. Keep it to those who you think will have something concrete to contribute.
If you are the one attending the meeting, look at the attendee list. If you see any unfamiliar names, look them up in your employee directory and deduce what they could bring to the table. This will ensure that you will be able to answer any questions they might throw your way.
Too many meetings start with agenda-setting sessions that take too much time and patience. If you are the one setting the meeting, provide a list of topics to be covered in the invite. For better results, include a brief background on the agenda so everyone will already be on the same page by the time the meeting starts.
Even regularly scheduled meetings will benefit from an agenda. For example, if one of your team members is going on leave next month, tomorrow’s meeting is the best time to discuss back-up and task delegation.
If you are invited to a meeting without an agenda, insist on getting one. Otherwise, you risk being stuck in an unproductive meeting. If this meeting is part of a series, review the previous meeting’s minutes as well so you’d get an idea of where you left off.
Sometimes, you call a meeting to cascade important management decisions. For example, a project might be cancelled or someone is to get promoted. Big decisions like these require one-on-one discussions with the people involved before the meeting itself.
This method is time-consuming, but it helps you avoid unpredictable reactions. It also helps you get buy-in from team members and helps you extract useful suggestions from them that you could integrate into the agenda.
Another strategy you can use is to allot an amount of time for the meeting. You can use a clock timer app to ensure that you don’t go over the time limit. This is an effective strategy for keeping the meeting focused.
So you’re at the meeting now and ideas are being thrown around. However, you notice that the meeting is veering away from the topic at hand. How do you ensure that the discussion doesn’t get derailed?
The most effective meeting moderators use what is called a parking lot. When something comes up and you feel it isn’t entirely related to your agenda, you could call it out and say, “this is a good question, but let’s put it in the parking lot so we could focus on our topic”. This creates some sort of separation between topics that are meant to be discussed and those that are not.
Remember that the parking lot is not a way to dismiss ideas outright. If you have time left in the meeting, you can revisit questions or suggestions you’ve parked. If you have no more time, either create action items out of them or schedule separate meetings for them. Using the parking lot wisely adds to your credibility as a facilitator.
Your job as a meeting facilitator isn’t done even after the attendees have left the room. Sending the meeting minutes is not just a bureaucratic process. It’s also the best way to remind everyone of what took place and what is expected of them.
If there are items that require special attention, make a phone call or send an email to the persons involved preferably on the same day as the meeting. It’s also best practice to put these action items on your calendar so you could follow up until you see results.
As much as you’d like to avoid them altogether, meetings are part of professional life.
However, they don’t have to be long, boring, and unproductive. Using the tips that we listed above, you can now turn meetings into events where things actually get done.