We’ve all been there. It’s 11am. You’re staring at the agenda before you. And a dozen thoughts are running through your head.
Why am I in this meeting?
Do we really need an hour for this?
I’m not even sure what’s going on.
Did I leave the stove on?
First, let me say – we’re not anti-meeting. But we’re certainly pro-efficient meetings. More than $37 billion is wasted in unproductive meetings in the United States every year, and chances are you’re not an organization immune to this issue. We definitely aren’t.
But all is not lost. There are easy steps you can take to cut waste and up productivity. You don’t have to fear meetings – just be sure you’re doing it with these four tips in mind.
1. Have a purpose
Don’t confuse this with having an agenda. Every meeting needs an agenda. Just because you have an agenda, it doesn’t mean you have a purpose.
This may seem obvious, but we’ve all been there. There’s probably a meeting on your calendar right now that you’ve squinted at, wondered what in the world it’s about, only to show up and spend an hour with several other people spinning your wheels and wondering what’s for lunch.
Ask yourself what you’re looking to achieve by the end of the meeting. Do you want to make certain key decisions, brainstorm new ideas, reach a consensus, etc.? What does a successful meeting look like?
Why are you bringing these people together? Be sure to explain to attendees what the purpose is – it may not be clear what the objective is to other people as it is to you, and it helps ensure everyone is on the same page about what they’re there to accomplish.
2. No technology…no, not even for notes.
I know, I know. This one is tough, but I believe in you.
You really shouldn’t have any kind of technology in front of you that could be distracting. Here are a few reasons why:
Electronics will pull you out of the moment of the meeting. Even if you’re not actively scrolling through your phone it’s still a distraction when it buzzes or lights up. And not just to you. Everyone feels the table buzz, everyone’s eyes dart to the phone that just lit up, and when it’s our phone we can’t help but glance at the notification. So just airplane mode it and I promise you’ll survive the next 30 minutes.
This includes computers too. Even if you’re just taking notes, there are always calendar, email, and other notifications that are distracting. Another downside is that you’ll tend to transcribe the meeting and not really absorb the content. Folks who take notes the old-fashioned way remember and learn more than electronic notetakers. But if it’s absolutely essential to take electronic notes, try turning off the wifi and just keep a word document open to keep you truly focused.
Active listening is important. It’s crucial that in your face-to-face interactions that people feel heard and respected. While it may feel that you are listening while looking at your computer, the other people you’re meeting with likely don’t feel that’s the case. The very point of in-person meetings is the genuine interpersonal connection. Looking engaged and being responsive to people’s words will result in more productive meetings. A laptop is a physical barrier that you just don’t need.
3. Invite the right people
Take a moment to give some thought to who you’re inviting. Just because a topic might be relevant to several people, it doesn’t mean they all have to be there. Consider whether you might just need one person from every department or if you even need higher level people in the meeting that you can report out to later.
Depending on your meeting, you might also take into consideration some of the personalities you’re inviting. If you’re making critical decisions, then you should take groupthink into consideration and plan appropriately for who should be a part of those meetings. Check out this short video on how to avoid groupthink:
Having too many people in a meeting also increases social loafing – a phenomenon where participants begin contributing less for a variety of reasons, but one reason can be the size of the group. If you have too many people, some folks will check out and let others do the heavy lifting.
The verdict is out on exactly how many people should be in a meeting – some say between five and seven and others say no more than ten. In general, try to avoid more than ten. Having more people in your meeting will drastically lower your odds of actually moving the ball forward in a meaningful way, unless you’re brainstorming or having a strategic session that might require more people. And even in those cases you should proceed with caution, more people isn’t always necessarily better – there’s a threshold for brainstorming and strategic meetings too.
4. It probably doesn’t need to be as long as you think it does
You likely don’t need an hour. If you have consistent meetings that are an hour – go back to Tip #3. How many people are in these meetings?
Do you need to bring these people together at once? Consider whether the agenda isn’t relevant to most invitees at any given time. It may be as simple as sitting down for five minutes with a few individuals for one-off items.
Another common mistake is trying to achieve too much in one meeting. Remember the importance of a clear purpose from Tip #1. If your purpose is multi-faceted, think about whether you should have several short meetings or whether part of it could be replaced with a call or email. A call-email-meeting hybrid can sometimes be the most appropriate way to get a job done while respecting everyone’s valuable time.
If you feel wary about committing yourself to less meeting time, try defaulting to 30 or 45 minute minutes and leave a little buffer on your calendar just in caseyou run over. Test it out and see where you end up. You could even try doing some stand-up meetings.
Meetings don’t have to be the worst
While we all like to harp on meetings, they aren’t inherently evil. We just tend to default to them too often without much thought. As with anything in life, your time is best spent with intention. Take a few minutes to think through how to best structure your meetings. It will save time, money, stress, and passive aggressive emails about who hasn’t yet responded to the doodle poll.