Busy Businessman

How to avoid meetings being a waste of timeWhat percentage of the meetings that you go to is a waste of time? When I ask this question in workshops, the answer is usually that 50% of meetings are completely unnecessary. (This is the normal answer- obviously, not all companies are the same.) However, when I ask people who work in multinationals or big corporations, the figure can be as high as 80%. That’s a pretty good example of non-productivity… Just think for a moment of the number of things we could get done if we didn’t suffer from the ‘meetings syndrome’ which is so engrained in many companies and bosses. In this post we’re going to look at some very simple steps to avoid this condition. If we follow them, our meetings will become much more effective and productive, we’ll get home earlier and so have the free time to do more interesting things with our lives.

  1. Make sure the aim of the meeting is clear. When you call a meeting, make sure that the people attending know what the purpose of the meeting is, and the agenda / the points to be discussed. More than once, I’ve heard someone say as they hurry down the corridor: “I’ve got to go to a meeting but I don’t know what it’s about”. Before starting the meeting, remind everyone of the aim; or even better, ask someone else to express it in their own words. If they’re not clear about it, you know whose fault it is…the person who’s called the meeting!
  2. Send out concise information pertaining to the meeting beforehand. Many people fall into the trap of attaching files that have pages and pages of information in them, with the result that no one reads them. The person who sends the information feels that he’s done his job, while the person on the receiving end feels justified in not reading it. At the risk of labouring the point, if people have to read through documentation beforehand, send it out in as condensed a way as possible.
  3. Only ask people to come if their presence is absolutely necessary. Another common mistake is to hold huge meetings which are more like conferences. Aren’t there more effective ways for people to access information? There’s another key point that also needs to be considered: do the people present have the power to take decisions? If they don’t, everything gets very drawn out and a lot of time ends up being wasted.
  4. Keep meetings as brief as possible. There are lots of different types of meeting, from purely informative ones to brainstorming sessions. The duration of any meeting will depend on its objective, but be careful not to have ‘rubber band’ meetings that can be stretched out almost indefinitely. After 45 minutes our attention begins to wane. In view of this, it’s good practice to determine what time the meeting will finish right at the beginning. In some companies, informative or quick decision-making meeting are even done with everyone involved standing up. This is the best way to finish as soon as possible.
  5. Define the role of each person. There are three basic roles: the leader, who is responsible for directing the meeting and guaranteeing that discussions don’t wander off the topic; the time-keeper, who makes sure that the meeting respects the established time limits; and the person who takes the minutes. These roles need to be defined before the meeting starts.
  6. Clear decisions and action points. At the end of the meeting, each person must know what they need to do, and by when. Any ambiguity on this point means that the meeting has been a failure. For this reason, the person taking the minutes should read out the decisions taken and verify that everyone is in agreement. It goes without saying that the minutes need to sent to all concerned. If this is done as soon as the meeting concludes, all the better. It’s time that is gained.
  7. Checking that action points are carried out. Sometimes it seems that there is a collective belief that if action points are written down, they will be done ‘as if by magic’. However, we all know that things don’t work like that. The effective monitoring of the fulfillment action points is an area that many companies could improve in. For this very reason, it’s a good idea to devote a few minutes of the meeting to determine how to make sure that action points are followed through on.

If you’re not the one who calls the meeting but are just taking part, you can propose the aforementioned points to the person who sets it up. Furthermore, as far as possible, avoid going to meetings that you don’t think are vital. And never forget: The scarcest resource at our disposal is time. How we use it will have a great effect on our levels of personal satisfaction.

Round-up:

The better we conduct meetings, the more productive and stress-free we will be, and the greater the time we’ll have for more important aspects of our lives.

Tips:

  1. Before a meeting: set out the objectives clearly; make sure that pre-meeting material is sent out and is as brief as possible; and only ask people to come if they really need to be there.
  2. During the meeting, define the main roles and make the meeting as brief as possible.
  3. At the end of the meeting, check the action points and to-dos; and don’t forget to monitor the fulfilment of what has been agreed on.

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