It wouldn't be a surprise to accept that majority of professionals love to hate meetings, would it? I understand that sometimes, meetings can be unavoidable - a new client onboarding, employee onboarding, brainstorm sessions ahead of a big creative project, etc. But do these rare instances give us an excuse to “sync up” three times a day, or hold a work-in-progress meeting that takes half a day every week? Can you imagine the number of hours that teams and managers could actually spend on delivering productive work instead of revelling in our own voices?
Yes, I love to hate meetings too. But over the years, I have found ways to make meetings productive. If we are going to do something, we might as well do it right.
Do you have a reason to meet or just an excuse?
Before you call for a meeting or give in to one, ask yourself if there is anything that the meeting can achieve that a quick phone call or email will not? Go all out only if there is one.
What is the objective?
Be clear as to what you want to achieve out of the meeting, communicate it to the attendees, and stick with it relentlessly. Project timelines that needs everyone’s input? Spell it out. Decision over a project roadblock? Let your attendees know so they come in prepared with inputs.
Circulate the agenda in advance
Agendas give meetings a semblance of structure. Everyone is on the same page in terms of what to expect, when to speak, and how long he or she will be required to be present. It also gives people a chance to get their status updates ready, do their research, and come prepared.
Often, meetings need to set some context through presentations and status updates. Get it out of the way as early in the meeting as possible and set a time limit for it. Set a time limit for discussions too.
But most importantly, don’t jump between topics. There is nothing more confusing and inefficient as jumping from topic to topic, person to person in the one or two hours you chalk out for a meeting. It leads to conversations going in circles and nobody ever has enough time to start on a topic or take it to a sound conclusion. If this is how you conduct meetings, you are wasting everyone’s time.
Encourage everyone to speak
Dominant personalities often hijack meetings, irrespective of whether their inputs actually add value. Also, if only one or two people are going to be speaking for a whole hour or two, they should perhaps meet separately and not waste everyone’s time. If you have invited 10 people to the meeting, surely you need their inputs or perspectives? Give them time to voice it out. Have introverts or young professionals in the room, who are not very comfortable voicing their opinions and concerns. Go around and ask for their inputs.
It is equally important that you invite those who actually need to be in the meeting and whose inputs you actually need to make a decision.
On time, every time
As a leader or manager, set the right examples by being punctual. If you start late, you are going to end late too. This really pulls the plug on people’s work, plans and schedules. Also, productive meetings don’t usually last for hours. One hour tops after which, people start to get restless, lose concentration, or remember their long to-do lists and exploding email inboxes.
No WhatsApp, no emails
Instant messages, mobile devices, and endless notifications are the bane of productive meetings in our age. If the meeting has been called for the right reasons, it is only fair that all attendees focus on the conversation at hand. If someone has nothing to add, he or she might as well be productive at their desks instead of peering into their emails every now and then.
A whiteboard, notes, and meeting minutes go a long way
A meeting with no action items is hardly a productive one. Action items getting lost in the deluge of words? That’s even worse! Make sure that someone on the team is taking notes and will send meeting minutes within the next 24 hours while the discussion is still fresh in their mind.
I am also a big fan of meeting minutes and I don’t think meetings should be conducted at all if there are going to be no minutes to follow. It ensures everyone is on the same page and nothing is lost in translation. Sound meeting minutes capture the entire conversation and comprise of the following components –
- Topics discussed
- Decisions made
- Next steps, who is responsible for them, and deadlines
There you have it; these are simple yet effective ways to conduct productive meetings. Meetings need to move away from focusing on mere words, conversations, and coffee and sandwiches. They need to signal the beginning of action. Anything else is a waste of everyone’s time.