How productive are your meetings?

Time wasting in meetings has to stop


Meetings are a necessary evil. Sometimes it’s great to be able to talk through a problem and make sure everyone’s on the same page. Yet it seems like just as often I find myself stuck in a meeting that could have ended 20 minutes ago.

To me, this is a sign that a re-think on meetings is needed. As those managers with exceptional time management skills will know, every second of a meeting should count.

Here’s how to get yours under control.

What are meetings for?

Start with intention. What is the purpose of a meeting? Usually, there is some kind of objective or goal in mind, even if it’s only implicit. Don’t let it be so – make it as explicit as you can. Settling on a goal for the meeting before it starts will help keep you on track.

Knowing what you aim to achieve in a meeting is key to making it a productive one.Knowing what you aim to achieve in a meeting is key to making it a productive one.

A clear objective also helps you know when the meeting is ready to end: when the objective’s have been achieved.

Effective team leadership requires knowing what the finish line looks like

For example, you schedule a meeting to discuss options for an upcoming marketing campaign. A broad focus, sure, but at the beginning of a project that’s what you want. Yet a meeting like this is a prime suspect for being a time waster. How will you know when you’ve achieved the objective of “discussing options?”. You could decide you want three options and no more. Once you’ve come up with them, the meetings ends there. Effective team leadership requires knowing what the finish line looks like; that way you don’t waste any energy carrying on once you’ve passed it.

Hard time limits are also a great idea. I’ve learnt that we often let things expand in the time we have available. You have a week to do something that would normally take a day? Don’t be surprised to see that task eat your week away. Setting unbreakable time limits on meetings forces you and your colleagues to get to the point. If you know that your chance to say what needs to be said will be forever extinguished after 60 minutes, you’d better hurry up and say it.

Two quick tips for better meetings

1. Let everyone join with something to say (and give them a chance to say it)

Freewheeling meetings can be helpful when you need to generate new ideas, but they are prime offenders when it comes to useless ones. I like to instruct everyone to bring something to say to the meeting, and I make sure everyone has a chance to say it. For example, you can instil a productive meeting culture by starting with everyone having two minutes to speak uninterrupted.

This has two benefits. The first is that everyone gets a chance to speak, so those more timid voices don’t feel like they have to fight to be heard. Secondly, it gives everybody who’s not speaking a chance to listen wholeheartedly instead of constructing the next thing they’re going to say. Why? Because they already know what they’re going to say – they prepared it before the meeting.

When everyone is afforded their say, there's no pressure to fight for the chance to speak.When everyone is afforded their say, there’s no pressure to fight for the chance to speak.

2. Take the time to debrief

I think it’s important at the end of every meeting to have some kind of debrief or summary. Doing so makes sure everyone’s on the same page when they leave. How many times have you left a meeting thinking one thing, and then you talk to a colleague and they have an entirely different impression? A quick recap of the conclusions you’ve come to during a meeting minimises the chance of miscommunication as well as the need for further meetings to re-explain what was covered in the first one.

Are you ready to tackle your unproductive meetings? I hope so. If you’d like to learn more about management training and other business-skills courses, get in touch with a member of the ICML team today.

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