Unproductive meetings waste more than $37 billion per year, and 67 percent of all meetings are considered failures.
Yet most people suck it up when their calendars get overloaded—or complain about it to their coworkers—never bothering to ask the question: how do I make our meetings more effective?
Granted, if you’re new to an organization, you probably aren’t in a position to dramatically change your team’s meeting habits. That said, there are some actions you can take to help you make the most of meetings—and guide others to do the same.
Read on for eight tips to make meetings more effective and productive, so you can get the greatest possible value out of your time.
1. Understand the purpose of the meeting
A meeting for the sake of having a meeting is a waste of everyone’s time. If you’re going to pull people away from their valuable work, then you have to make sure the meeting provides equal or greater value—both to the organization and the individual people involved.
This means that understanding, defining, and communicating the purpose of the meeting is critical. If you don’t know what the goal of the meeting is, you’ll show up unprepared and won’t be able to contribute effectively. The same goes for your coworkers.
Generally, meetings fall into one of three categories:
- Information sharing. In these meetings, information flows in one direction—usually from leadership to the employees. Generally there will be a Q&A, but the purpose is to clarify and reinforce the information shared.
- Creative discussion. This is a back-and-forth discussion where you toss out ideas, ideally in a judgment-free way.
- Consensus decision. Stakeholders come together to reach a decision on a particular topic. Ideally, once the meeting is over and the decision made, no more discussion is needed and you move to execute the plan.
Defining the purpose of the meeting will provide clarity, help you avoid rabbit holes, and help you make the meeting more effective.
2. Have an agenda
In addition to having a set purpose for the meeting, it’s also important to have a firm grasp on the subjects and topics to be covered. If not, it’s easy for the meeting to get off track—especially during a brainstorming session.
Although your agenda should always be in writing, it doesn’t have to be fancy. It just needs to answer the following questions:
- What type of meeting is this? What is the expected outcome?
- What are the topic(s) of conversation (define these as narrowly as possible)?
- Who needs to be present at this meeting?
- Who is responsible for leading the meeting? Who manages the post-meeting action items?
Creating an agenda provides clarity, allows everyone to show up prepared, and helps to ensure you are as time-efficient as possible.
3. Be time conscious
Everyone’s time is valuable. If you’re attending a meeting, show up on time (or a few minutes early). If you’re running a meeting, show up on time and, most importantly, end the meeting early.
This is easier said than done. There are a number of reasons why a meeting might run late:
- Too much small talk or catch-up
- Lack of focus on the topic of discussion
- Allowing some people to dominate the conversation
- Expecting to accomplish too much in a short amount of time
It’s always a good idea to plan more time than you think you need, and focus the meeting on a narrow enough topic that you can accomplish your objective in the allotted time.
4. Know your role
Everyone has a job in a meeting. If you don’t have a role, then you probably shouldn’t be there (more on that later).
Are you leading the meeting, or just a participant? If you’re a participant, how active do people expect you to be? What are the risks of dominating the conversation?
One of the biggest problems with corporate meetings is that expectations are often unspoken. If possible, reach out to the meeting leader with a quick email to clarify any details. It may take a few minutes of your and their time, but that small effort could mean the difference between a productive and unproductive session.
5. Prepare in advance
If you’re going to productively contribute to a meeting, you need to be prepared. But that important truth cuts both ways: if you want everyone to productively contribute, you have to give them the information they need to be prepared.
So if you’re a participant, do your research ahead of time. If you’re unsure about anything, ask in advance.
And if you’re running the meeting, make sure you provide participants with the background information they need to be successful:
- Data, stats, and charts
- Sales plans
- Production plans
- Roadmaps & backlogs
6. Identify who needs to be present
Not everyone needs to be in every meeting. While some people feel like they should be present because they’re involved in a project, the truth is that if they’re not going to actively contribute, the meeting is a waste of their time.
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has a “two pizza” rule of thumb: if you need more than two pizzas to feed everybody, then there are too many people.
If you think that you need more people in the meeting, then it’s possible that the scope of the meeting is too big. In that case, focus on a narrower topic and objective.
7. Listen actively
The point of a meeting is to gather input from your colleagues. If you don’t listen to what they have to say, then there’s no point—regardless of whether you’re a leader or participant.
It’s true that the post-COVID world has blurred the lines between what’s acceptable in meetings. Generally speaking, spending time on your phone or holding sideline conversations is a bad move. Not only is it rude, but you’re missing out on important information—and you won’t be able to contribute to the discussion.
And if these meetings are so boring that you don’t feel like you’re getting anything out of them, then consider this next point…
8. Make sure you need the meeting
“This meeting could’ve been an email.” We’ve all heard (and probably said) that line a time or two.
So before you schedule a meeting and expect people to give up their precious time, decide whether or not a meeting is absolutely necessary. Some issues can be solved via email, Slack, or a couple of one-on-one phone calls.
As important as meetings are, if you spend your whole day in them, you’ll never get your work done. So consider the idea of “meetings as a last resort” — you’ll end up with higher quality outcomes in the end.
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