Making Your Meetings Matter

You open your calendar on Monday morning and look ahead at your day.  Meeting in a half hour, meeting over lunch, and an invite just popped up in your email for another one this afternoon.  You sigh.  Great, another day half filled with round-about discussion that lasts too long and doesn’t get anything done.  You have work to do, a lot of it, and it’s not going to be an easier when you are interrupted every hour or so.

Unfortunately, this hypothetical isn’t far off point.  Recent statistics show that about 50 percent of meetings are time wasted.  A surprising amount of people report daydreaming, doing other work, or even sleeping during meeting time … so unless your meetings are designed to be a mental break and nice nap, the majority of meetings aren’t effective.

This is a little bit of a ‘yikes’.  Sure traditional corporate America has its fair share of bureaucratic, cubicle, 2-hour lunch stereotypes, but more and more companies are committed to making their business a great place to work for everyone: encouraging innovation and creativity among all levels of their company. If meetings are producing annoyed team members who are able to do their job less effectively, a meeting-free workplace seems more and more appealing.  And many business are heading in this direction, using email threads, instant messaging, or other online collaborative tools for communications that don’t require the conference room sit-down.

Meetings, however, still have their place in most businesses.  Reporting, planning, problem-solving … sometimes there is no substitute for the collaboration and focus that should umbrella meetings.  So how can we snap the purpose back on to our meetings?


Give Meetings Structure:  Knowing what you are going to meet about is far from knowing what you need to talk about during the meeting.  Set the goal or purpose for the meeting, but then take the time to make a detailed agenda.  Give the agenda to participants ahead of time and ask if they’d like anything added.  This way, everyone can come into the meeting prepared and focused.  You should also consider who you invite to the meeting carefully – does everyone need to be there?  If Juan is just there to get last week’s sales numbers, couldn’t that be sent in an email and save him some time?

Respect the Time:  We’ve all been caught in meetings where, at the conclusion, it’s clear that the problem could’ve been solved in twenty minutes when you’ve been talking in circles for an hour (really just filling time).  Most meeting do not need to last longer than 45 minutes and many don’t need to last longer than 15.  Look at the time you have allotted for a meeting – could you cut that time in half?  Once you commit to a time block, enforce it.  That means no waiting for Heidi who’s just grabbing coffee quick or Peter who’ll just be a minute late.  When you respect the meeting start and end time, you are also respecting your colleagues’ time.

Be Actionable: There’s little that can make your time feel more useless than leaving a long meeting and feeling like nothing was accomplished.  In fact, you’ll probably end up in the same meeting next week to hash out the same problem.  When meetings don’t end on an actionable note, it’s hard to feel like anything got done.  Keep track of action items decided during the meeting, and review and assign them before you adjourn.  Even asking “what are the next steps?” before the conclusion of the meeting can keep the energy going on projects.  Meetings are meant to move your goals forward – embrace that momentum.

Meeting don’t have to mean time wasted.  They can be amazing collaborative venues to enforce team culture, inspire innovation, and provide accountability for individual and company goals.  However, meeting shouldn’t take up a majority of any employee’s day – there needs to be time for the real work to get done.  With this in mind, you can evaluate and organize meetings that are tailored for your company.

How effective are your meetings right now?  What does your team do to stay on track?

For more business and hiring tips follow us on Twitter @CareerPlug


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