Meetings! All businesses need a certain number to ensure they are communicating and operating effectively, but when does it become one too many? Recently, a European survey of more than 2,000 employees from the UK, France and Germany found that the average employee spends 187 hours in meetings each year – the equivalent of 23 days. When hotel brand, Crowne Plaza Hotel & Resorts, polled workers, a staggering 56% of meetings were unproductive. Reasons cited included meetings that lasted too long, causing participants to disengage, with 23% admitting that they had witnessed others falling asleep in meetings.
To add insult to injury, we now live in a time where technological advances have blurred the lines between work and relaxation, productivity and entertainment, meaning we have much shorter attention spans than we did 20, 10 and even 5 years ago.
So how can we address the issue of meetings, from their unwelcomed abundance through to their seeming ineffectiveness?
We’ve put together a list of 7 ways that you can ensure your meetings are as effective as they can be, and not just another occasion of having a meeting for meetings sake.
1. Is it absolutely necessary?
Doing too much of any one thing dilutes its quality. The same goes for meetings – the more you hold, the less effective and impactful they can potentially become.
Before calling a meeting, consider whether it is absolutely necessary, and whether the content of that meeting could be communicated just as effectively through a memo, an email, a conference or Skype call etc., particularly where it is necessary for attendees to travel to attend the meeting.
If you have deemed the meeting essential, consider whether it is necessary for everyone to be there. If not, ensure those individuals know that they are not under pressure to attend. Keep your list strictly to those directly involved and whose input is required. Don’t fill the room with disengaged spectators whose time could be better spent on other projects.
2. Write and agenda
If you have decided that the meeting is essential, write up an agenda that lays out your purpose of the meeting. Open with a clear statement on why you’re holding the meeting, how long it is likely to last and then list every item that needs to be covered, with allotted times, where possible. Beside each item, include the names of the individuals expected to act on or address it.
Circulate your agenda well in advance so that necessary reading, research and ‘homework’ can be done, and the meeting isn’t derailed by unprepared participants. A pre-circulated agenda also ensures that everyone who attends arrives ready to work on solutions and come up with ideas, as opposed to losing precious time rehashing the reason for the meeting.
As part of your agenda, set a start and end time, and stick to it. There is nothing worse than a meeting with no specific end scheduled. It sets a tone of dread for many participants, meaning they won’t bring their best to your meeting, while giving room for the discussion to go off on unhelpful tangents. Open-ended meetings kill productivity.
3. Focus first on what matters most
When drawing up your agenda, list the most important matters for discussion first. Doing this ensures that the most energy and enthusiasm are given to those items (which should bring the most value to your organisation, staff and clients) long before attention naturally starts to wane, as well as making sure that the ultimate purpose of the meeting is addressed before the time runs out.
4. Assign a moderator / chairperson
At meetings, there is often that one person who has excellent ideas but doesn’t contribute, maybe through lack of confidence in their work or anxieties about talking in front of others. Similarly, there is always that one person who consistently over-talks, over-shares or goes wildly off-topic. This is where you can benefit from an assigned moderator / chairperson. Not only can this person keep control of the meeting’s flow and move things along where necessary, they can also make sure that everyone gets an opportunity to contribute their ideas uninterrupted, while encouraging the most dominant voices to give good grace and listen.
5. Draw clear conclusions
After each agenda item is discussed, summarise it for everyone and draw a final conclusion. Agree who is responsible for what, and when. Ensure everyone knows the next steps on that item, before moving on to the next one. At the end of the meeting, reiterate the main conclusions, so that no one is left wondering what was decided, achieved, or what is expected. Leaving items open and without clear conclusions can leave you at risk of needing to call another meeting to rehash everything, and participants will be less that impressed at that one!
6. Circulate minutes afterwards
People forget things. People lose focus. People often recall discussions differently to others, especially where emotions or opinions are strong. Therefore, it is important to assign one person to take accurate minutes of the meeting and circulate them to all participants, ideally within 24-48 hours of that meeting. Accurate minutes can be drawn upon at any time in the future to help ensure that all participants are clear on agreed deadlines and responsibilities, and to help resolve any misunderstandings that may occur after the meeting’s end.
7. Don’t entertain latecomers
Once the meeting’s designated start time is set, stick to it. Don’t wait for the latecomer(s). It is unfair and disrespectful to make your other participants wait to get started. When, and if, the latecomer arrives, and their tardiness is due to anything other than a personal/family emergency, a major traffic accident en-route, a natural disaster or being called away to save humanity, consider politely advising them that they are now not permitted to join the meeting. This rule doubles as a time-management/personal development tool, as that person is unlikely to show up late next time. (Note: If using such a policy, it will need to apply to both employees and employers, to keep things fair!).
We hope these seven tips will help you to ensure that your meetings (should you choose to have them) are effective, engaging, and a marvellous use of your much-valued time.