There seems to be an entire generation of managers who never learned how to hold a meeting that is efficient and actionable. And the productivity losses are enormous. Large-scale leadership meetings cost companies a fortune. If you average every individual’s hourly cost to the company and add it together, large meetings can cost thousands of dollars per hour, hundreds of dollars per minute! CEOs would take decisive action to improve poorly ran meetings if they calculated their actual costs.
The most successful managers all share a skill—the ability to conduct interesting and productive meetings, something that Jack Welch was famous for. They have cracked the code on avoiding soul crushing meetings that waste time while accomplishing little. They have a plan for each meeting that optimizes the use of time, so that the time spent is not a wasted but a beneficial investment for the company.
First, it is helpful to understand the purpose of a meeting. Meetings are meant to save time. They are designed to get people face-to-face to answer questions and exchange information faster than it can be accomplished through email, phone calls and other means.
There are three main types of meetings: 1) Strategy meetings that are determining potential courses of action; 2) Meetings related to some sort of planning and status update for an ongoing project and; 3) Meetings related to making key decisions. There are other types of meetings, such as brainstorming meetings, organizational etc., but the above three categories cover the large majority of all meetings.
Below are six tips for holding productive meetings that are actionable and justify the time they take by providing a measurable return on productivity.
1. Publish an Agenda in Advance
Planning a meeting in advance will save time during the actual meeting, if ran in a methodical way, rather than trying to figure out what’s next. The agenda topics act as a meeting outline and “conversation starter.” As you are planning the meeting, ask the question, “What is the most important goal of the meeting?”.
Make sure your agenda reflects that goal, as each agenda item should generate two vital pieces of information for the entire group. Read the next tip for setting agenda goals.
2. Agenda Fulfillment
Each agenda item should generate new information and an action item. New information is something that helps other members do their jobs easier. It informs future action that may impact the end result, timeline, or resources allocation.
Action items should be assigned to individuals who then become the key stake holder for that strategy or task, even if it will be worked on in a small group. No action item should be left dangling for someone to half-heartedly take on. New information and action items should be summarized in the meeting notes and distributed to the entire team immediately following the meeting. Do not wait days to distribute the notes! Too much time and information will be lost.
3. Designate a Meeting Recorder
Designate someone as the official note taker for the meeting. The recorder will take detailed notes, especially concerning new information, action items and the responsible parties. Far too many meetings lose information because of untimely documentation and improper accountability.
4. Drop-in Briefings
Sometimes large meetings are unavoidable. If more than five attend and not everyone needs all of the information being covered, publish a timeline with the agenda and allow “drop-ins” to the meeting. Drop-ins are individuals who are providing vital information but who are not taking part in the overall meeting. They should arrive on time and be allowed a small block of time, no more than 5-15 minutes, to cover their portion of the meeting, and afterward they can depart the meeting. Drop-ins will save an enormous amount of time for all involved, and if well-coordinated, they tend to make meetings less onerous. There is nothing worse than having to attend an entire two-hour meeting only to brief something in the last 15 minutes, and have the other hour and forty-five minutes wasted.
5. Never Cater Meetings
Bringing food into meetings invites light conversation. You are not there to chitchat (see #6) you are there to plan, make decisions and share information about a vital priority to the company. Food is a distraction. The team needs to focus on the agenda and getting through all of the items as quickly as possible. If you want to see just how fast and productive a meeting can be, schedule meetings right before lunch or on Friday at 4:00 pm. Those are ideal times to keep the team focused on an agenda.
6. Cut the Chitchat
Assuming everyone knows one another already, the meeting should not include 5-10 minutes of chit-chat at the beginning of the meeting. Catch up on the weather, your favorite sports teams, and the health of your children another time. Creating a get-it-done culture will help move meetings along. Too many times a lackadaisical attitude, especially at the beginning, will derail a meeting and send it meandering. Create a company rule and train the entire team on how to plan and moderate meetings, and there will be no hard feelings. Most people will thank you for all of the time saved.
Meetings do not have to be hell-on-earth. It just takes some planning, organizational structure and training to make them productive and quick!
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