For most businesses, meetings are an essential component for getting things done. At the same time, poorly led and organized meetings are a time-consuming swamp that bedevil business leaders at every turn. They go on too long, they’re held for all the wrong reasons, they end with no action to move forward, etc.
And, as Daniel Marcus, CEO of Magnetic Software notes, “when teams are calling meetings to prep and plan for future meetings, something needs to give.”
We’re not talking about getting rid of meetings altogether, just the ones that waste everyone’s time and lack any viable ROI. Here are tips for improving the quality of your meetings and boosting productivity throughout the organization:
Draw up an agenda and stick to it. Every meeting should include a point-by-point agenda for what will be discussed. This agenda should be distributed to all those planning to attend, together with any materials people need to review in advance. Ideally, specific time-limits should be attached to each agenda item, and participants should clearly understand that other, irrelevant topics will not be addressed at this meeting.
Don’t invite anyone who doesn’t have a good reason to attend the meeting. All too often, employees are asked to attend meetings without the meeting planner considering whether or not their presence is genuinely necessary. The result? Too many people sitting in a conference room wondering what they’re doing there and walking out afterward with no answer to that question and nothing but lost time to show for it.
Think through who needs to be at a meeting and ruthlessly restrict attendance to those necessary few. Distinguish between required and optional participants, Marcus says, “so that optional participants will only attend if they have an active interest in what’s on the agenda.”
Lose the PowerPoint presentation. Virtually anything that can be displayed on PowerPoint during a meeting can (and probably should) be distributed to individuals via email or other online collaborative resources for review on their own. While a great resource for transmitting information, PowerPoint can eat up entire meetings that might be more profitably devoted to analyzing a particular challenge and assigning action steps for a concrete resolution.
And while we’re at it, consider imposing strict rules prohibiting the use of mobile devices during meetings. When employees are texting, checking emails or other keeping their eyes fixed on their phones, they’re not participating in or contributing to the meeting itself.
Take an active leadership role (or assign the role to someone else). No meeting should ever be rudderless. If a CEO or business owner calls a meeting, he or she must take an active leadership role that adheres closely to the agenda, allows no digressions, and pursues a conclusion that leaves all participants with a greater understanding of the issue under discussion—and what steps must be taken to address it, post-meeting. As an option, a meeting leaders can be designated to assume this role, perhaps in coordination with someone who keeps close track of the time for each agenda item and makes notes on related topics to be addressed at some other time. It’s very important to set an observable standard for promoting meetings that are always efficient and informative.
Explore alternatives to conventional meetings. If your culture encourages meetings that go on too long and lack a fruitful conclusion, consider different alternatives. One such option is holding a 15-minute “meeting of the day” where employees and/or managers quickly review their current work duties—bringing everyone else on the team up to speed—and then go back to their jobs. Again, a note-taker can transcribe key points and share them via an all-staff email later the same day.
Want more advice on making your business more productive and efficient? Find out if a TAB Board is right for you!