If you’re like most small business owners, meetings are the bane of your existence. In fact, you and your staff probably spend a great many hours in rambling, unnecessary, or badly-managed pow-wows. But, in the current tough climate, when employees are stretched to the breaking point, who can afford wasting time in productivity-sapping meetings?
As it turns out, there are several simple ways to boost meeting efficiency. Try following these five steps:
1. Determine whether email will do the trick
Before you even think about scheduling a meeting, consider the possibility of other alternatives. If the topic is straight-forward and doesn’t need a lot of give and take, email probably will suffice. But, don’t go overboard. “If you’re discussing an issue via email and there continues to be extensive, inconclusive back and forth, you’ll need to have a face-to-face interaction with the group,” says Stephanie Calahan, a productivity and management consultant in Bloomington, Ill.
Rule of thumb: If you have to go back and forth on the same topic more than three times, it requires a meeting.
2. Prepare ahead of time
There’s no way around it: running an efficient meeting takes planning. That includes everything from ensuring key attendees can make it, to thinking through how to handle potential disagreements. “The time you put into planning will pay off in huge dividends later on,” says Calahan.
Perhaps most important is creating an agenda. “You need to write down what has to be accomplished, so everyone can see it’s not going to be an endless waste of time,” says Damon Danielson, founder of Arrange.cc, a startup that helps businesspeople schedule meetings efficiently. The agenda should include the purpose of the meeting, a list of everyone attending and the issues to be discussed. In addition, indicate the start and finish time and how long the discussion for each item is allowed to last.
At the same, make it clear everyone also needs to come prepared. That’s easier said than done these days, when time-starved employees, “may get the email, but not bother even to open the agenda up,” says Calahan. The solution: Establish in one-on-one conversations that you expect all staff members to prepare before meetings.
3. Stick to your guns
Once the meeting has started, don’t allow what Calahan calls “scope creep.” That means not letting attendees veer off into matters unrelated to the agenda item at hand. If participants launch into an off-topic discussion, suggest they talk about it after the meeting . “You need to be a policeman,” says Danielson
The same is true for keeping to the time limits you set. Should a topic need more than the allotted number of minutes, you might have to schedule another meeting to discuss it in greater depth.
4. Use follow-ups strategically
Include in the agenda a time to discuss necessary actions that need to be taken after the meeting. Doing so accomplishes more than making sure steps will be taken to follow through on decisions. It also ensures everyone leaves the meeting with the same expectations and understanding of what went on.
5. Try to leave employees solid blocks of meeting-free time
“A lot of employees get started on a project, then cut it short because they have to go a meeting,” says Calahan. When they return to their desks, they spend 20 minutes or so refocusing—only to find they have to run off to another meeting shortly after. One answer: Schedule your meetings so that employees have at least a day when they can work without interruption.
“With a day of no meetings, you’ll see productivity shoot up,” says Calahan.