How to Have Productive Meetings
Meetings may be the worst necessary evil of a working life. For many organizations, meetings are simply a waste of time, creative energy, and effort. Even the average worker bee attends more than 60 meetings each month and spends over 30 hours in meetings they consider to be unproductive.
Fortunately, many companies are starting to recognize this fact and are actively disrupting the boring old meeting model by planning and conducting meetings well. Consider these tips to plan and execute your next meeting.
1. Don’t go where you don’t belong.
Harrison Owen is a writer and consultant best known for theorizing Open Space Technology (OST), a methodical approach to purpose-driven leadership, including a way for hosting meetings, conferences, retreats, symposiums, and community events. Owen’s greatest contribution might be his single law for working smart: “The Law of Two Feet.”
According to the law, if at any time during our time together you find yourself in any situation where you are neither learning or contributing, use your two feet and go somewhere else. This is a time-tested law that can save you hundreds of work hours by not spending your time daydreaming in a meeting.
2. Make meetings shorter.
The ideal block recommended by experts is 15 minutes because it can be easily scheduled in a calendar app, but meetings shouldn’t run longer than 20 minutes. Why? Because science tells us that most meeting participants or audiences can only be engaged for 10 to 18 minutes before they start to tune out. This is the reason why the world-renowned TED Talks are limited to 18 minutes, even for the most brilliant and inspiring speakers.
3. Be innovative with space.
Naturally, most people gravitate toward a conference room as a sensible meeting space for a group, but it’s great to change it up every now and then. Take your group outside for some fresh air, or take small groups to a coffee shop. If you have a one-on-one meeting booked, you can even take one of those famous West Wing walk-and-talks to boost engagement and help inspire creativity.
4. Set an agenda.
The purpose of most meetings should be to get input, to ask for approval or to pass on information. Google is adamant about meetings being meaningful, so every decision-making meeting must have a decision-maker. By setting a clear agenda in advance, you can both prepare your team for authentic engagement, and also answer these important questions:
- What is the one thing that you would like to accomplish in this meeting?
- What are you most concerned about today, and what do you want to focus on?
- What challenges threaten your focus, and how will you get back on track
- What are your colleagues looking to get from this meeting?
5. Lose the technology.
The real advantage of meetings is the authentic, face-to-face engagement that happens when creative minds get together for dialogue and collaboration. Opinions may differ on the use of laptops for note taking but at minimum meetings should be a no-fly zone for smartphones and other devices that make people pay more attention to notifications than people.
6. Follow up.
Meetings don’t mean anything if they don’t produce actionable intelligence and even more importantly, results. It’s especially easy for disengaged or bored participants to forget their next steps after a long discussion. For every meeting, you should:
- Finish meetings a little early to allow for a smoother transition back into the work day.
- Record outcomes and action items, and note which individuals are directly responsible for accomplishing follow-up tasks.
- In a follow-up note, recap key decisions and reflect on the insights gained from the meeting, noting the steps that each person will take next.
Great meetings can be reflective of great leadership. They should never be a painful obligation or a burden to bear, but rather a great opportunity to collaborate and make the most of your time.