Developing Efficient Meetings
How would you describe meetings you have attended in the past?
Last Tuesday, I was facilitating a workshop on how to facilitate more successful meetings, and to start things off, I asked the group that very question. The answers that they provided were very similar to answers that I have received from hundreds of workshop participants over the last ten years.
The first two responses were…
“Meetings are looooooooooong,” and
“Meetings are BOW-ring (this workshop was actually held in my hometown of Fort Worth, Texas – thus the Texas twang.)”
Those two responses almost always come up when I ask the question. Others that also come up a lot are a waste of time, non-productive, confrontational, inefficient, repetitive, and a number of other negative descriptions. Every once in a while, I get a positive, informative, or necessary response, but usually, the other participants gang up against the person very quickly.
Meetings Are a Necessary Evil.
Most people believe that business meetings are necessary evils, and in many cases, they are. But one of the most important things we can remember about business meetings is NOT to have one unless it is absolutely necessary.
When your employees and coworkers are in staff meetings, they are not producing. Nothing is ever produced until after the meeting is over. One of my first pieces of advice to people who want to make meetings more effective is to have fewer of them.
About five years ago, I made this statement in a class, and a young lady in the front row raised her hand and said, “That sounds really good, but my whole job description involves going to meetings.” I was intrigued, so I asked her to tell me more.
She was a personal assistant to a manager of a Fortune 500 company, and her boss hired her to attend the meetings that he could not attend himself because there were not enough hours in the day.
After class, she and I sat down and identified 32 hours of wasted meeting time she participated in every week. These were meetings that neither she nor her boss was actually needed for, but that one of them attended every week.
Over the next year, this one person increased the productivity of her team by over 200%. Granted, this is an extreme case, but there are probably hours in each of our weeks that are wasted by ineffective meetings.
5 Ways to Make Your Meetings More Efficient
The tips below are strategies I have collected over the years from class members who swear by their effectiveness. I hope they work for you as well.
1) Have an Agenda for the Meeting
Outline ahead of time the points you want to cover in the meeting. Write it out and distribute it to participants ahead of time. This will help avoid the “chasing of rabbits,” and help participants be more prepared for the meeting.
2) Follow the Meeting Agenda.
This sounds very elementary. But the number of people who take the time to create an agenda and then totally disregard the agenda during the meeting is alarming.
3) Limit the Meeting Agenda to Just a Few Items (Three or Fewer Is Best.)
Ask yourself, “What are the three most important things we must cover in the meeting?” Limit the agenda to these three points. The rest of the things you wanted to cover, by definition, weren’t really that important anyway, so why waste everyone’s time?
4) Set a Time Limit for the Meeting.
I would suggest setting the time limit for the meeting to be no longer than 30 minutes. In future meetings, shorten the time by five minutes until the time limit is 15 minutes or less.
The leader of the meeting will become much more efficient, and the participants will become much more focused as well. When the time limit is up, end the meeting.
You may not get to cover everything you wanted the first time you try this. But you’ll get to a point where you’ll cover the major information points in each short meeting. You’ll also notice that your team will make decisions more efficiently.
5) Encourage Participation from Everyone, But Don’t Force Them.
Instead of going around the table and asking for opinions or input, just ask a question and let people volunteer their answers. There will be times during any meeting that each person will “phase out” (especially if it is a looooong and BOW-ring meeting.)
If we call on every person, it wastes time and puts people on the spot. Another way of encouraging participation is just to ask a question, and after someone answers, say something like, “Good, let’s hear from someone else.”
If there are people in your meeting who rarely speak, avoid calling on them directly. Instead, you might say something like, “I value the opinion of each of you. Does anyone else have something to add?” Then, look at the person you want to hear from. If he or she has something to say, he or she will say it if encouraged in this way. You haven’t embarrassed the person if he or she doesn’t.
Meetings Can Be Powerful If You Follow These Meeting Tips.
Meetings can be a very powerful way to communicate and solve problems. Start with a written meeting agenda. Follow the agenda. Cover no more than three items in the meeting. Set a time limit for the meeting. Then, encourage your entire team to participate. Your meetings can be efficient and powerful, too. Just use these simple tips.
About the Author, Doug Staneart
Doug Staneart is CEO of BuildingYourTeam.com, Team Building Training. His classes focus on overcoming the fear of public speaking, building confident and autonomous leaders, and improving employee morale. For information about public programs for individuals, visit our leadership site, High Impact Leaders. You can reach Doug toll-free at 1-800-872-7830.