Sooner or later, everyone starts hating meetings.
But If everyone hates them, why do they continue to exist?
Meetings exist because they serve a purpose. They bring people together to make decisions and exchange information. They are typically held when you need to solve problems and come up with new ideas. Team building and boosting professional relationships are incidental benefits.
People hate unproductive meetings. Think about it: when you they meeting is unproductive, you are wasting your attendees’ time. Time is not the only thing that’s wasted. Efficiency, creativity, and team morale also take a hit.
Let’s look at why meetings are unproductive and how you can turn them into effective discussions.
Is a meeting even needed?
Before scheduling a meeting, first ask yourself if it is even necessary. There should be a specific goal and desired outcome. Sometimes, setting aside time to think strategically can offer better solutions than holding a meeting. If it’s something that can be resolved over text, simply send an email or a Slack message. Time saved can be used to get real work done.
Consider what would happen if you cancel the meeting. This is a good way to weed out unproductive meetings. If your team cares about the meeting, then they would ask you to reschedule it.
Don’t fall into the reporting trap
Many teams end up wasting time using the meeting as a reporting forum. They ramble on about past activities. But reporting should not be the purpose of team meetings. Meetings should be used for consensus-building, problem-solving, and future plans.
Here’s how you can stop status reporting in your team meetings:
- Past data and other reports can be shared in advance.
- Encourage employees to write a summary of work done and share it before the meeting.
- Individual problems and questions should be solved before the meeting.
- Stakeholders should come prepared for the issues that are to be discussed.
This helps to exclude unwarranted people from meetings and limit discussion to significant issues.
Creating an agenda
The lack of a clear agenda is another reason why meetings are unproductive. Hence, you should prepare the agenda in advance so that attendees can come prepared. The agenda should not be just a list of topics you want to cover. An agenda item should be something that requires input from attendees, an important decision to be made, or something that warrants a brainstorming session. These are agenda items that lead to some kind of outcome.
Here is how you can design an effective agenda:
- List agenda items as questions. This helps keep discussions on track.
- While preparing the agenda, determine who will lead the discussion for each item.
- Set a realistic time estimate for discussing each item and use a meeting timer to stay on track.
- Choose topics that affect the team as a whole.
Give back time
Don’t fall for Parkinson’s Law. Stick to the agenda and watch the clock. If you can finish meetings early, don’t be afraid to do so. This will give you time to get to the next meeting on time and you can start working on the next steps. Don’t be tempted to fill the extra time with some discussion. Try running a 22-minute or 25-minute meeting instead of the usual half-an-hour meeting. This keeps everyone on their toes and acutely aware of the time.
How many is too many?
Limit the number of attendees in your meetings. This helps attendees express their opinion better and arrive at solutions and decisions faster. There are many practices that are followed in this regard. Some follow rule of seven, some use the 8-18-1800 rule, and Jeff Bezos of Amazon follows the “2 pizza” rule.
Here are some handy yardsticks to decide who needs to be present:
- Key decision makers for the issues involved
- People with information and knowledge about the topics under discussion
- People who have a commitment to or a stake in the issues
- Those who need to know about the information you have to report in order to do their jobs
- Anyone who will be required to implement any decisions made
Get everyone to participate
Some attendees tend to monopolize the discussion while others zone out. Both situations lead to unproductive meetings. Improve participation by following these tips:
- Collaborate on the meeting content.
- Ask questions and encourage opinion.
- Use ideas that people contribute and appreciate those who speak up.
Define action items
Do not end a meeting without clearly defining action items, timelines, and responsibilities. People often have different interpretations of what happened during the meeting. To avoid this, record which action item has to be completed by whom and by when. Establish a follow-up mechanism to keep track of prorgess. Sometimes meetings may bring up issues that need to be discussed further, so be sure to set up a separate time for follow-up.
Multitasking can drastically reduce productivity during meetings. Often attendees check emails and social media accounts. Before they even realize it, they have no clue about what’s being discussed. Multitasking also distracts other attendees and annoys them. When you multitask, you put your interests above those of the team, and this negatively impacts meeting goals. To counter this, keep meetings as short as possible and get everyone to participate. If possible, unplug laptops and ensure that everyone is mindful of the topics and issues being discussed.
Kill the phones
The best way to run a productive meeting is to get everyone’s attention and keep it. This becomes complicated when people use their smartphones or laptops for unrelated reasons. A simple solution would be to ask people to leave their cell phones on the desk. If they can’t, then keep a tray at the entrance and ask everyone to place their phones there. This ensures that the meeting is effective and doesn’t drag on forever.
End the reign of unproductive meetings
Meetings don’t have to be a trap that people try to avoid at all costs. By sticking to an agenda, limiting attendees, and eliminating sources of distraction, you can be free from unproductive meetings. Meetings can become instruments of change. This will foster better communication and teamwork, resulting in satisfied employees and better work-life balance.