We’ve all sat through long, unproductive meetings. They drag on and nothing seems to get achieved. Its difficult to concentrate and even more difficult to stay awake. There’s some good news though. There are a few simple steps describing how to conduct efficient meetings.
This is possibly the most obvious one, but it has to be mentioned. Never have a meeting without an agenda. Your agenda might even just be a single item. If you can’t think of an appropriate agenda, or if your agenda is one item that starts with something like “Discuss”, then your meeting will probably be a waste of time. Plan your agenda around what results you want from the meeting, not what you want to do while in the meeting. This will result in more purposeful meetings, better results and less waffling.
Timing is critical for efficient meetings. Lets start by recalling Parkinson’s Law:
Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.
We need just enough time in order to complete the work. If we allow any more time, it just gets filled with waffling. If you’re used to your meetings lasting 1 hour, try 50 minutes, then try 40 minutes. See how short you can make it. If you’re not yet in a routine, you’re in the perfect position to start short and only extend if absolutely necessary.
Try using a timer as a hard limit, not a recommended duration. If it runs short, great! If it runs over, cut it off – you’re probably just procrastinating. Let everyone know the agenda and see the timer. This gamifies the meeting, making everyone want to keep it short. People can still voice their opinions, but it reminds us to keep it short and on topic. If you’re struggling, you could even try offering rewards for staying under time if its appropriate.
If your meeting is with your own team, then you can inspire your team to be more efficient in your meetings. Those jokes and off-topic tangents may seem fun to whoever cracks them, but there’s nearly always people in the room that don’t find it interesting and could be doing more productive things. Their time is being wasted. Ultimately as the leader you need to discipline yourself to not go off topic, inspire your team to not go off topic, and if anyone still does (they will), quickly bring it back on topic. This will save everyone’s time, and more importantly, their focus on the important subject.
Scrap the Meeting
What? But our company revolves around meetings! Your company should revolve around creating great products or services, not meetings! Sure a few are inevitable, and the previous tips should help keep them efficient, but if you’re having 2-3 meetings a day, how are you finding time to focus on getting real work done? Work out which meetings can be replaced with someone just making a decision, work out which meetings just aren’t needed at all.
When you do need a meeting, only invite who is absolutely necessary. It seems counter-intuitive to get fewer opinions, and even offensive to anyone that isn’t invited. If you have a culture of efficiency and producing good work, nobody wil be offended that they weren’t invited. They will understand that they can achieve more by not being there, and your meeting can run smoother with fewer people adding their slant to the topic.
So, scrap the meetings that you can. For the rest, work on your agenda, timing and discipline and you will start to see an improvement in efficiency.