Meetings are a fact of life in business. Here are some essentials to help you make meetings effective and productive.
Why are meetings so terrible? To answer this question, we must briefly revisit the history of meetings. Over the past forty years, meetings have increased in duration and frequency. According to one study, the average American executive spends 23 hours a week in meetings, either group meetings or one-on-one meetings. While on average, 15 percent of your time is spent in meetings – a number that has significantly grown every single year since 2008.
Meetings aren’t just a quantitative problem. Most people you know love to complain about their lack of productivity.
However, meetings aren’t necessarily evil. Meetings can prove to be an effective tool to disseminate the company’s strategic plans and develop responses to challenges impacting their business.
How to make meetings effective & productive
To run effective meetings, organizers need to be aware of meeting best practices. Here are a few essentials to keep in mind:
1. Plan meetings in advance to maximize efficiency
Begin with the most important aspect of a meeting: agenda. The meeting agenda should fulfill the following objectives:
- To get input from attendees
- To pass on information
- To ask for approval
The key to a productive meeting is having a clear agenda. If you’re unable to fulfill any of the above objectives, you shouldn’t have a meeting in first place.
Send out an actionable agenda to your fellow attendees along with any relevant information before the meeting. Don’t brute force items into the agenda list. The agenda should also show estimates for each topic on the list. This should help you promote efficiency and convey that each item on the list will get sufficient time for discussion.
Fidji Simo, Head of Facebook App at Facebook, advises setting the minimum time for meetings at 10-15 minutes.
“Many people don’t check in to figure out how much time should be realistically allotted to something. They just default to 30 minutes for a small conversation and 60 minutes for a larger conversation. This contributes to calendars looking like Swiss cheese.”
Make sure you get the details right so you don’t have to do back and forth to schedule the meeting.
2. Budget the meeting
Before you send out the meeting agenda, ask what is the true cost of this meeting? You could use the equation below:
Individual meeting cost = [duration] x ([hourly setup cost] + [attendee hourly sum])
The real cost of meetings comes from employees’ time. In a study of time budgeting at large corporations, Bain & Company found that a single weekly meeting of mid-level managers was costing the organizations more than $15 million a year.
Find out how much you’re investing in the meeting(s), then ask yourself: Is it really worth it?
3. Establish clear rules
To make meetings effective, set clear ground rules that encourage participation, focus and results. A clear set of abstract and behavioral rules should help you define roles, improve participation, set expectations for attendees, and provide mechanisms for constructive feedback when these rules and expectations are violated.
4. End meeting with action item
Your meeting should have a clear outcome. According to Robert C. Pozen, a senior lecturer at the MIT Sloan School of Management, a meeting should end with the following questions:
- When is it due?
- Who is responsible?
- What’s next?
This would make it easier for you to wrap up the meeting. It would also establish meeting attendees’ responsibilities (if any).
After the meeting, send out a summary of meeting minutes with action items you discussed at the end of the meeting. This would help you stay on course of the project and keep meetings productive and effective at best.
5. Build mechanism for faster assessment
In order to increase meeting effectiveness, the meeting organizer (you) and/or attendees should examine the flow and pace of the meeting. It’s also the perfect time to revise ground rules and their effectiveness.
Successful organizations do not treat meetings as a waste of time. Instead, they view it was a strategic vehicle and seek out ways to get the most out of meetings.