At least 30 percent of the time spent in meetings is wasted, according to 2,000 managers surveyed by Industry Week. A similar survey of executives by 3M Meeting Network put that number at up to 50 percent. Meetings have become the bane of companies across the country. They’re widely recognized as time sucks, and everyone acknowledges that meetings are usually inefficient.
Meetings aren’t inherently problematic. They’ve gotten a bad reputation because most people don’t think about why they’re meeting and what value they hope to gain. Managers often hold meetings just to get people together, rather than to make decisions. But there are better ways for productive, innovative companies to operate.
If togetherness is the goal, create informal, fluid opportunities for people to connect. Meetings tend to be formal and should be held only when you need to make key decisions or consolidate critical thought processes.
Any time you feel the urge to hold a meeting to connect with your team, go talk to them in their workspaces instead. Work alongside them, or take your team to lunch. Don’t force them to sit through a meeting when you could achieve your objective in more effective — and fun — ways.
When you truly do need to call a meeting, use these guidelines to ensure the gathering is productive and worthwhile:
- Don’t let your employees go into a meeting blind. A meeting should not be the first time you introduce a concept or reveal data that’s vital to the decision being made. It’s difficult to share new information at the start of a meeting and expect people to process it and come to a joint conclusion within the allotted 30 or 60 minutes.
Brief everyone on the relevant information before you meet (whether that’s in smaller group forums or via email) so you can collect your thoughts before sitting down to the discussion. Then, keep the meeting focused on decision points.
My company uses WeVue, a cloud-based platform that allows us to capture cultural information. The data we collect there tells us which topics require formal consultation. No one feels unprepared when we meet because we’ve provided access to all of the necessary information ahead of time.
- Involve only the most relevant players. Know the circle of influence you’re addressing and who can offer valuable input in that area. When you bring in people who don’t need to be at the meeting, you risk being sidelined by irrelevant commentary about issues you cannot control. Letting the participant list become too broad does everyone a disservice. Once you’ve gathered your key actors, appoint an unbiased facilitator who will keep everyone on task.
- Make the best use of your (and your staff’s) time. Identify which agenda items are top priorities. What are the decision points that must be covered in order to make progress? Establishing goals in advance ensures you make the best use of everyone’s time.
- Let the meeting take its natural course. Today’s business environment has us thinking all decisions must be made in 30-minute increments. If the conversation moves slower than anticipated, empower the facilitator to table the discussion. If a meeting ends sooner than expected, all the better.
- Model the behavior you want to inspire. Be consistent in your criteria for holding meetings, stick to the agenda, and come prepared. Meetings should be powerful: Get to the point, and then get back to work.
Productive meetings spring from productive cultures. If you encourage collaboration and open discussion, you’ll need fewer formal meetings because conversations are happening all the time. When you do call a meeting, you can draw on those dialogues and shared data to make smart, informed decisions.