How to have a more productive meeting

31 August 2019

Most people in organizations dread meetings and according to Harvard Business Review, there are almost 55 million meetings taking place each day in the United States alone. Meetings don’t have to be painful experiences. Here are some tips on how to have more productive meetings, based on our collective consulting experience.

1. What do you want to walk away with?

Setting up a meeting for success requires for you to start with the end result in mind, and to reverse engineer the agenda based on desired outcomes. Set an agenda well in advance, and distribute to the meeting attendees. Ask your attendees the simple question: “What do you want to walk away with from this meeting?” Encourage attendees to clarify their needs based on the input they require to continue their work after the meeting. At the start of the meeting, allow each major stakeholder or attendee to reiterate what they would like to walk away with, supported by a copy of the agenda (preferably electronic!). Do not start the meeting unless the expectations, purpose and reason for the meeting has been clarified – otherwise, you are having a meeting for the sake of having a meeting. If you are not the meeting organizer and on the receiving end of the meeting request – beware of meeting invites with no objectives, invites or goals. If the organizer cannot give a clear purpose on why the meeting has been called, avoid attending if possible.

2. Don’t hijack the meeting

On a digital whiteboard or otherwise, draw a headline called ‘the parking lot’. Any relevant, useful or important points raised during the meeting that are not relevant to this particular meeting’s desired outcomes or agenda are noted and added to ‘the parking lot’. This acknowledges each participant’s valid contribution to an unrelated topic so to action at the end. More often than not, these items are relevant to other or separate meetings. ‘The parking lot’ therefore avoids the meeting from losing its focus and participants going off on tangents. It is the responsibility of the person or party facilitating the meeting to pro-actively manage ‘the parking lot’ and to ensure that participants stick to the point. Build 10 minutes on the hour into your time for tangents, but limit the discussion only to hearing out the topic – stick to the point. Towards the end of the meeting, prevent anyone from asking the age-old phrase “Now that I have you all here…” – Don’t start a second meeting or hijack other people’s time, which executives or managers are often guilty of.

3. Encourage more standing meetings

A significant problem with meetings is that people get the opportunity to become too comfortable and waste time sitting down, resulting in unnecessarily long meetings. Modern offices now have raised or standing desks – don’t forget to include these into meeting spaces or informal breakaway areas. Standing meetings often reduce meeting times naturally, and is an opportunity for everyone to get up from their chairs for once in a while. Get your team (and clients, if they’re up for it) one small step closer to their wellness goals by encouraging more standing meetings where appropriate or possible.

4. For internal meetings: ditch the old-fashioned minutes

There should always be a designated employee or team member to keep minutes. However, recording minutes in a Word document and distributing thereafter is falling out of sync with many of the modern systems and processes our clients make use of today. For internal meetings, consider rather using the systems, services or software the team utilizes every day for actioning tasks or items. We refer here to off-the-shelf examples such as MS Planner, ASANA, MS Teams, Slack or perhaps the CRM system if the meeting is more sales focussed. Keep the service open on-screen during the meeting and assign tasks or action items accordingly. Once the meeting is complete, everyone knows what they need to do. No need for further follow-ups or transcribing meeting minutes into actionable items, since follow-ups are where meetings often lose their entire purpose if nothing has been actioned.

5. Start and end on time

If your meeting failed to end on time, you have failed to plan or to facilitate the flow of the discussion. Meeting participants should never be allowed to have free roam of the conversation, there should always be someone steering or facilitating to ensure participants stick to the point/agenda, manage ‘the parking lot’ and create awareness of time. Team leaders or executives who have a reputation for on-time meetings receive more favourable responses and meeting opt-ins from their peers or subordinates, knowing that their time will be respected. If you are having a virtual meeting or videoconference, allow an extra 10-15 minutes at the start of the meeting for everyone to ‘settle in’ and to address the inevitable tech challenges that will arise. Too many virtual meetings start late due to a muted microphones or spotty internet connection from one of the participants. 

Always end the meeting with an opportunity for clarification or questions, and assign accountability – if no questions are raised, we assume there is consensus on what to do moving forward. Surprise follow-up emails or side-politics will be ignored thereafter.

The best meetings, however, are the ones who don’t have to happen at all. Speak to us on how your organization can improve its internal communication efficiency through digital change by clicking here.