We all know the truth, and it’s time we start admitting it: Most meetings are ineffective.
Frustrated with my own meetings, which seemed to accomplish little except function as insomnia remedies for my staff, I set out to perfect my meeting style—shooting for “The Meeting to End All Meetings.” I did extensive research on what makes a good meeting, and put much of what I learned to the test. What worked best?
1. Categorize your meeting type. There are basically three types of meetings: information dissemination, assignments, and idea generation. Let your staff know what type of meeting it is before they walk into the room. This way they're primed to either absorb information, accept or make assignments, or share their ideas. You'll save time by not having to go over background information, and you can get right down to work.
2. Only allow essential people to attend. Keeping your meetings small eliminates potential distractions and uses your company’s structure more efficiently. Empower (and require) the leaders within your company to share information with the folks who report to them. You’re not only endorsing their leadership, but making better use of your own time.
3. Follow the rule of 15 and bring a timer. Our attention spans are only good for about 15 minutes. Rather than push your staff beyond what they can endure, embrace the rule of 15 and use it to limit your meeting time. Make it an absolute rule (enforced by your timer) that no one—not even you—can ramble on for longer than 15 minutes.
Even better, break the meeting into three five-minute segments and pack each segment with solid information. You may object to this idea initially, thinking that there’s no way you can accomplish anything in only 15 minutes, but you will discover that you end up accomplishing more because you’re more prepared and focused.
4. Assign one person to be the contact person. George Washington once said, “My observation is that whenever one person is found adequate to the discharge of a duty, it is worse executed by two persons, and scarcely done at all if three or more are employed therein.” Our Founding Father knew that efficiency improves when there’s one person responsible for tracking and reporting progress on a project. Even if the employee you designate as the contact person isn’t the one doing the work, he or she is tasked with coming to the meeting prepared to offer a concise summary of what’s going on. That is way more efficient than allowing team members to meander through their portion of a larger job.
5. Have an agenda and stick with it. Whether you send an agenda via email before the meeting or you use a whiteboard to jot it down, having a written agenda demonstrates that you’re holding a meeting for a reason and that you value your staff’s time. Use your timer to ensure that you accomplish everything on your agenda and that you neither belabor points unnecessarily or digress to the point that you’re off topic. Modeling efficiency helps get your staff on the same page.
6. Ask for anonymous feedback. I tested out this tip a bit skeptically, but what I discovered—based on the recaps and responses to my meetings—was that I wasn’t being a very good listener. I realized that I needed to spend more of my meeting time listening, and writing down, the valuable insights and information shared by my staff. Anonymous feedback from your employees will absolutely help you run more effective meetings, and will help you and your staff get more out of your shared time.
I’ve learned a lot about meetings, and one of the most interesting things is that inevitably, the people inside meetings want out of them, while the people outside the meetings want in. Good meetings are powerful—especially the small ones—because they convey important information and help shape the direction of the work your company does. Running efficient, effective meetings sends your staff back out into the office as informed, empowered employees who share a clear vision, direction and plan of attack.
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