In today’s workplaces, employees spend a LOT of time in meetings. In fact 80% of all managers say that they spend 60% of their time with meetings. But how productive are these meetings – really? Do they help save time, trim costs and boost profits, or do they just waste valuable on-the-clock time?
Are Meetings Useful?
According to National Public Radio (NPR), the typical employee can spend up to 9 hours per week – that is, about one full workday – just preparing for or attending meetings. As well, over 80 percent of today’s managers state that more than half the meetings they attend are a total waste of time.
To avoid this fate in your company, be sure to follow these 8 rules for conducting the most successful meetings.
8 Rules for Successful Meetings
By following these rules, you can ensure that every meeting your employees attend is both necessary and beneficial to your company’s bottom line.
1. Reduce the amount of time spent in meetings
Organizations slow down organizing meetings and schedule the perfect date that fits for all participants. Especially in C-Level meetings. And be sure: Not everything has to be discussed in meetings. Sometimes „teamwork“ is just inefficient answering questions, especially because many teams are just groups and not real teams. On the other hand technology offers so many tools for „meeting“ today – webinars, Skype calls, texting, online collaboration spaces, email – that a formal meeting is often simply not necessary to keep projects moving forward. As well, there is something to be said for individual as well as team-based work.
2. Plan and prepare well
Very few meeting planners can get away with „spontaneous meetings“. Lack of preparation can never be compensated by improvisation. Attendees can feel it and will resent it, and they may duck future meetings as a result. So make sure the word gets out that when you call a meeting, it is highly relevant, precisely planned and perfectly executed.
3. Approach each meeting as if everyone has someplace important to be in 15 minutes
To conduct a meeting requires discipline and hard work. In other words, build a timetable, leave a bit of wiggle room (5 minutes or so) around each agenda item, and listen carefully, but be prepared to cut speakers off if they stray from the point or cease to become relevant. In general, most issues can be addressed successfully in 30 minutes or less – and up to 60 minutes for complex issues. As meeting chairman: Be polite, but strict.
4. Refrain from in-meeting socializing
Happy hour is a time for socializing with co-workers. Meeting time is not. After a short and warm welcome to attendees, jump right into the agenda. This alone can shave as much as 10 to 15 minutes or more off your meeting time. Meetings have the purpose to achieve results, not to be social events.
5. Develop and distribute a clear agenda
Make sure the meeting planner or chairperson sets the agenda AND distributes it at least 3-5 business days in advance of the meeting. If the agenda is a team-based effort, start the planning at least two weeks out.
When structuring the agenda, be aware of the classic 3 types of items: what is old business (long-running, ongoing items), what is new business (real present day items) and what is up for discussion (miscellaneous or undefined issues). Group these by category. Generally old business doesn’t hold many surprises and can be dispensed with quickly, so place these items either right at the beginning or end of the meeting.
Place the new business in the „prime time“ position and allot the most time to these items to be sure they are adequately addressed. Then, if time permits, you can move to general discussions of open-ended items.
6. No meetings without decision
Make it the goal of each meeting to develop the next action item. Each agenda item should be addressed based on the classic structure of „Who What When Where Why How.“ In other words, for each item you will ask what needs to get done, why is it important, who will do it, when is it due, how will it get done, where will it get done. If you ever leave a meeting without taking with you a clear set of next steps and action items for each agenda item, that meeting just wasted everyone’s time. It may not always end in consensus. But different opinions must be addressed openly.
7. Is a protocol necessary?
Very straight: Yes! Write down decisions, actions, responsibilities and deadlines. Some companies conduct all meetings based on Robert’s Rules of Order. Other companies have their own in-house meeting protocol. What matters is that you develop a system that is productive for the types of meetings you have and that you USE that system.
8. Most important: implementing and monitoring
Finally, you will want to continually monitor the outcome of each meeting your employees attend. You may want to institute a feedback system such as a post-meeting poll or survey (anonymous if you like). Some companies require meeting planners or managers to report back to their own superiors on meeting outcomes. At the end of each year, each meeting planner should be able to account for all time spent in meetings and how those meetings helped to cut costs, boost profits, increase profitability and move the company forward.
By following these eight rules for conducting a successful meeting, you may soon find your teams are meeting less but achieving more!