Minimize to Maximize: The Art of Meaningful Meetings

Meetings

Have you noticed how common it is for people to take laptops and phones into meetings these days? How those who are not actively part of the discussion use the time to get other work done? Or check their email, the weekend weather, or read an article on a tech blog?

It’s symptomatic of how meetings happen today. You call a meeting to resolve an issue, invite all those who might be affected, who need to be kept in the loop, and then settle down to brainstorm solutions. People arrive to your meeting with a snack and a soda, and settle into the comfiest chair. An hour and fifteen minutes later, you’re getting close to a resolution but half the attendees are working on unrelated tasks, and listening in with only half an ear.

Sound familiar? Multiply the number of people you have in a meeting by the time your meeting takes, and then multiply that figure by the average hourly rate of your attendees. Was the meeting worth it? To put it bluntly: Does the resolution you reached during that meeting justify that dollar amount? And could you get the same result in less time or with fewer attendees?

In most cases, yes! The majority of meetings could be planned better, and attended by only those who are absolutely essential. You could also probably run those meetings more efficiently, and make sure clear next steps are identified, assigned and acted on. Here’s how.

Before the Meeting

AgendaYou can save a whole lot of time before your meeting even starts by setting a very careful agenda.

First, does the meeting need to happen at all? Or could decisions be made over the phone or by a quick huddle in the hallway with a few stakeholders?

If you do need to meet, create a very focused agenda, noting the points you must discuss and avoiding anything that’s not central to the discussion. Assign a time period for each talking point, and state who you’ll need to hear from and any specific information they need to bring to the meeting. Send the agenda out at least 24 hours before the meeting.

Do not invite a person simply because their department might be impacted by decisions made in the meeting. Every hour they spend in your meeting, is an hour they’re not focused on their own priorities, which costs your company money. So trim your attendee list.

Cut the scheduled length of your meeting too. Some efficiency experts suggest trimming your meeting time by half, forcing you to focus on resolutions and action items. Discussions are always more efficient when you all know the clock is ticking.

Last, consider holding a short walking meeting or a stand-up meeting. A walking meeting gets you out of the office, limits the number of people, and you’ll all return refreshed and ready to get to work! A stand-up meeting at the end of the day can also be very efficient. Everyone wants to resolve things, finish up their work and get home.

During the Meeting

Manage TimeRunning a meeting efficiently is all about staying focused. At the start of the meeting, remind attendees of the agenda—what you are discussing, and the exact decisions and outcomes you plan to reach in the time frame.

Assign a time keeper, who not only makes sure you don’t run over time, but who raises a red flag when the discussion veers off topic. Encourage the use of side-bar discussions or scheduling a separate meeting to discuss topics that are important but not relevant to the meeting.

Want to make your meeting even more efficient? Ask participants to mute their phones and place them on the table. Ask them to close their laptops unless they’re set to present information at the meeting. Your staff may resist, but ask them to try going device free in meetings for a week. Your conversations will be more focused and attendees will be more engaged.

Take the experiment a step further if you’re brave! As an experiment, use a meeting ticker to gauge the actual dollar cost of your meeting. If you do this for a few days, your team members will become sensitive to how efficiently meetings are run.

Most importantly, assign someone to take notes. Have them summarize the general discussion, noting decisions, action items and next steps. We suggest using a simple app designed to take minutes, like Minutes.io or Less Meeting, as apps like this often have productivity and sharing features build into them.

After the Meeting

CommunicateA meeting without minutes may as well not have happened. Your meeting minutes give you something to refer back to, and a summary of the meeting to share with people who might be affected.

Send the minutes out to all who attended the meeting, and to other staff who might be interested. I also suggest designating a single person to go to follow up with any affected people who were not in the meeting.

Some of the suggestions in this article may seem prohibitive. Your staff might not like not being able to surf the web or send a text message during downtime in a meeting. The truth is that if only the essential stakeholders attend a meeting, and no one is distracted during it, you will all get more done in less time. And we all love a meeting that finishes on time!

Let us know if you have strategies to keep your meetings focused. We’d love to hear them.

Additional Reading