We’ve all been in meetings that have been a complete waste of time. These meetings were unproductive either because the purpose wasn’t clearly defined, the participants weren’t aware of their roles or the end results were confusing.
Forward-thinking leaders know that when they bring people together to achieve a specific goal, they need to do it strategically. Below are 10 tips you can use to improve the way you run meetings so you don't waste anyone's time.
1. Know Why You’re Meeting
One of the biggest time wasters at the office is having meetings for the sake of having meetings. These unnecessary meetings end up wasting your employees' time and costing your company thousands of dollars.
Before scheduling a meeting, you should know its purpose, have a clear agenda and decide if a meeting is really the best way to get the job done. “If you don’t know why you’re meeting, don’t meet," Jeff Denneen, a partner at Bain & Co., recently responded on LinkedIn when asked about the one business problem he'd like to fix. "Most valuable meetings have one of three purposes: inform, discuss or decide. Before calling a meeting, think about whether you could inform people through a different medium or use a tool to reach a decision.”
Most of the time, the best way to inform your employees is through online discussions instead of in-person meeting. According to Michael C. Mankins, also a partner at Bain & Co., meetings are most effective when you're getting together as a group to gather input or make a decision.
2. Complete All Pre-Meeting Work
To make the most of your meeting time, do as much legwork as you can beforehand. Costas Andriopoulos, a professor of innovation and entrepreneurship at Cass Business School in London, says that preparing for meetings requires some forethought and serious planning.
“Based on the objective of the meeting, force yourself to limit the agenda to the items that are most crucial to you, your team and your business,” he recently wrote in the Harvard Business Review. “To do this right, have some informal discussions beforehand with relevant colleagues to identify what is important to them. Then email the agenda—with a timeline that allocates a certain number of minutes to each item—to people well in advance, so that they come prepared.”
Then, when it's time for your meeting, you can stick to the agenda, which will prevent your team from wandering off topic.
3. Manage Your Invites
Before you send out meeting requests, think carefully about who you actually need in the meeting. “In many companies, it’s bad form not to invite lots of people to a meeting," Denneen says. "What people don’t realize is that every additional attendee adds cost and gets in the way.”
When developing your attendee list, remember the “Rule of Seven,” which states that every attendee over a total of seven reduces the likelihood that the group will be able to make an informed decision by 10 percent.
In fact, the smaller the group, the better. Amazon’s Jeff Bezos follows what he calls a "two pizza rule," meaning he never holds meetings where two pizzas couldn’t feed the entire group. His idea is that the bigger the group, the more inclined people feel to agree with one another instead of voicing their own opinions.
4. Try to Meet on Tuesdays at 3 p.m.
While "Tuesdays at three" may sound like an odd time, that's when people are most agreeable to meet, according to research from online scheduling service When is Good. A survey from Accountemps also found that workers are most productive on Tuesdays.
If that time doesn't work for you, try to choose something in the middle of the week instead of on a Monday or Friday. On Mondays, people are recovering from their weekends and trying to get back into the flow of work. And on Fridays, they're already thinking about their weekend plans and not on the critical topic you may want to discuss. You'll get better results if you schedule meetings when people are more fully in work mode.
5. Ban All Electronics
Yes, this means attendees will have to leave their smartphones at the door. It also means you should suggest your employees take notes by hand instead of on their laptops or other electronic devices. One study found that laptop note taking is less effective for gathering and retaining information compared to notes taken by hand. The researchers from Princeton University and the University of California, Los Angeles found that while recalling information was similar for both groups of notetakers, those who took notes by hand were able to understand concepts on a deeper level than those who relied on their electronic devices.
6. Lay Out the Ground Rules at the Start
At the beginning of each meeting, you should clearly inform your team what’s expected of them. Tell them what time you’re intending to end the meeting. Ask for everyone’s active participation, and make sure they understand that there should be no interruptions. Be clear about how decisions will be made and what you want accomplished by the end of the meeting.
7. Keep Meetings to 15 Minutes
If it’s possible, all your meetings should be no longer than 15 minutes. Why? One is for the sake of time, but the other—and more important reason—is because most people begin mentally checking out after 18 minutes. This is why each TED talk is kept to 18 minutes or less. Researchers have found that people can only give you their undivided attention for 10 to 18 minutes before they start feeling fatigued and getting distracted.
8. Have Attendees Stand
The next time you have a meeting, try standing. A study conducted by researchers from Washington University reports that the ability for attendees to work together, share ideas and produce good work increased when meeting attendees were standing compared to sitting. The researchers found that standing boosts excitement and decreased people’s need to defend their turf or feel competitive with one another.
9. Take Control of the Conversation
There may be debates and conflicts that come up during your meetings, but as the leader, you need to put a stop to these as soon as you see them coming. Don’t let the same people hog the conversation, and make sure everyone gets an equal chance to speak up. If you don't take control, you won't achieve your meeting goals, and the employees who tend not to speak will withdraw even further in future meetings.
10. Assign Tasks Before Breaking
At the end of the meeting, make sure everyone walks away knowing exactly what their next steps are. You should speak directly to the people in charge of each task and follow up when you say you will. The meeting needs to end with a feeling that the agenda has been fulfilled.
Whether you like them or not, you can't avoid business meetings, but holding unproductive meetings is worse than not having them at all. So be strategic with your time and your employees’ time. Do your homework ahead of time and set strict ground rules. Make sure your meetings bring new ideas and results through innovative decisions.
By running productive meetings, you might just be surprised by the successful results that come out of them.
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