Executive Coaching Articles

Make Your Meetings More Productive

No one says it more eloquently than nationally syndicated columnist Dave Barry:

“If you had to identify, in one word, the reason why the human race has not achieved and never will achieve its full potential that word would be ‘meetings’.”

It’s tough to argue with him. If you’re like most managers, you’ll spend 8 to 10 hours each week in meetings. In fact, according to a University of Arizona study, there are more than 11 million formal meetings each day, totaling a staggering three billion a year.

Yet in study after study, workers cite meetings as one of the most unproductive and frustrating parts of their jobs. Wasting almost $40-billion each year, it’s no wonder that Industry Week Magazine called meetings “The Great White Collar Crime.” But you don’t have to be a victim.

Listed below are seven simple steps you can take to make meetings more productive and, heaven forbid, even fun. I encourage you to share these tips with others on your team. Working together, you can be the business equivalent of a “neighborhood watch program,” stamping out this insidious crime, one meeting at a time.

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  1. Determine if a meeting is really necessary. Will a few phone calls or face-to-face discussions accomplish the same thing? One client of mine uses her company’s mission and values as a measuring stick. If she can’t relate the purpose of the proposed meeting to company goals, she will cancel it.
  2. Have an agenda. A no-brainer you say? Yes, but amazingly enough, more than 60 percent of meetings do not have prepared agendas. This simple step can cut unproductive meeting time by up to 80 percent. Your agenda should be specific, not vague. For example, “Garfinkle Project” isn’t as effective as “Determine funding and priorities for Garfinkle Project.” And be sure to distribute your agenda ahead of time with the appropriate background information.
  3. Invite only those who will contribute to your success. What’s more important? Hurting someone’s feelings or achieving the success of your project? The fewer people involved, the more productive the meeting. Likewise, don’t feel obligated to go to meetings just because you were invited. Ask yourself, “Could I spend this time on something more important?” If the answer is “yes,” suggest someone from your team to represent you.
  4. Communicate your objectives and desired outcomes. Everyone in the room should know, in advance, the purpose of the meeting, why they were invited, and what they are expected to contribute.
  5. Start on time. “Don’t make exceptions,” recommends Harold Taylor, a Time Consulting firm. “If someone arrives late, explain to him or her that you are now on item two or whatever. Don’t apologize for starting on time and resist the temptation to summarize the progress to date for every late arrival. If they ask, tell them you’ll update them after the meeting.”
  6. Stay focused. Determine time limits for each topic and stick to them. If something comes up that’s not on the agenda, reschedule it for discussion at another time. Taylor suggests placing priority items that will generate the least discussion at the beginning of the agenda, while saving contentious items to the end.
  7. Summarize and assign responsibility. Before adjourning, summarize the action items, who is responsible for each, and in what timeframe. Schedule the next meeting, but only if one is really necessary.