Time Management: Tips For Meetings That Don’t Suck

June 16, 2014 by in category Employee Engagement, Productivity, Time Management with 0 and 0

Business presentationLet’s face it. Meetings suck. They can suck time, suck money and they can suck energy. (And no, I didn’t just write that so I could use the word “suck” three times in one sentence.)

The Time Management Cost of Meetings

Many times, meetings already feel like a waste of time. Have you ever thought about how expensive meetings are? During regular business operational times, your team easily spends 15% of the week in meetings. So simply calculate 15% of your payroll. That’s what it costs you EVERY WEEK. We have a large client with 150 employees at an average of $60,000 in salary. They once calculated that they spend nearly $1.3 million in meetings.

That’s painful.

Granted, meetings can create efficiencies that save money or result in ideas that help generate revenues. But ONLY if they’re run efficiently. However, financial costs are only one of the expenses of poorly planned and executed meetings.

Meetings drain energy and crush momentum.

Have you ever been in a meeting and thought to yourself: “I really need to get some real work done?” We all have.

Even meetings with the best intentions can slide sideways before we know it. Boring presenters, opinions with no actions, off-target side conversations and no planning or objectives. Worse yet, meetings that end with no action plan and accountability usually mean there is no resolution. So the topic continues to be an issue, creating resentment and disinterest in subsequent meetings.

We’ve all been in these meetings, so how do we fix them?

I’ve gathered you here today…

Start by defining the meeting. There are really only three types of productive meetings:

  1. To solve a problem
  2. To communicate Information or
  3. To brainstorm.

Develop a time management process that requires any meeting initiator to clarify the objective using one of these three types. If the meeting has two of these intentions, then a second meeting should be scheduled.

Start every meeting by clearly communicating the purpose and reminding everyone that you’re going to try to stay focused.

Take care of business.

From this point, it’s important to stick with a standardized agenda for time management. This creates a consistency that can, with a little team practice, create more efficient and effective meetings – meetings that result in action plans and accountability.

In our next blog, we’ll share the specific agendas we’ve developed for each of these types of meetings that have resulted in more successful meetings for our clients. While our process gives you a strong starting point, we encourage you and your team to experiment and adapt the process into a system that works for your organization.

While different types of meetings have their unique attributes and challenges, every meeting should have the same steps for time management.

  • Have a specific and single-minded goal. If there is more than one goal, you should have more than one meeting.
  • Define the objective criteria to be used to make decisions.
  • Share perspectives. But make sure conversations stay focused on the goal.
  • Review the options. There are meetings for generating ideas and meetings for making decisions. Don’t try to do both in one meeting.
  • Reach consensus. Not agreement, but consensus based on the criteria established in step 2.
  • Define action steps and assign responsibilities. To establish accountability.
  • Review the meeting effectiveness. At the end of the meeting as well as the next day to confirm next steps are clear.

Tips For Making Meetings Suck Less.

We’ve collected some time management practices our clients have adopted to help create more efficient and more effective meetings.

  • Write down the goal. Very clearly state the goal of the meeting, then write it on your meeting board. Keep everyone on track.
  • Halve the meeting times. Calendars are created in hourly increments, but your meetings don’t have to do the same. Cut hour-long meetings into a half hour or 30-minute meetings into 15 minutes. If your team doesn’t think it’s possible, give them the exercise of cutting the agenda in half by determining what is most important. Try it out. If it doesn’t work, add the time back. In our experience, time constraints create focus. Chances are, you won’t need to add the time back.
  • Collect the electronics. We have one client who keeps a giant bowl on a table right inside the door of their conference room and everyone’s required to turn off and drop their phones upon entering the conference room. When participants see other participants checking their phones, it’s like a yawn. They too feel the urge to check their devices.
  • Avoid death by PowerPoint. In fact, don’t spend time reading any documents. If it can be put into writing, it should be written and circulated prior to the meeting. The meeting is for clarifying, deciding and determining action.
  • Inject energy. Every meeting should be led with energy. For example, getting everyone smiling is a great start. We have a client who starts his weekly staff meeting by asking every participant to share the most energizing thing that happened to them the previous week, business or personal.
  • Stand.  Nothing keeps people on task than being on their feet. It’s hard to hide behind your computer or check your phone.
  • For “Problem Solving” meetings, make sure the meeting ends only once clear action items and individual accountability has been established.
  • Make sure you invite the right people to your “Communicating Information” meetings. Too few can create conflict within the organization. If you invite too many, you risk draining energy and momentum.
  • “Brainstorming” meetings should be scheduled with plenty of time. In fact, off-site meetings work best.
  • Every meeting should have a moderator. One of our clients uses only two key staff members who are good moderators. Often the meeting initiator is too vested in the outcome to offer unbiased direction. Moderators shouldn’t be overbearing personalities either. They should speak little and keep the meeting on task.
  • Make sure your meetings only occupy 15% of any given work week. When in planning mode, that number could creep up into the neighborhood of 50%, but stay on task until planning phase is complete.
  • The best way to engage participants is to encourage engagement. They feel they’ve contributed to the greater good and generally have a stronger affinity toward the solution. However, your moderator should stay alert to make sure participation is leading toward the meeting goal and not spinning off into venting or unrelated conversations.
  • Guide your meeting participation toward solutions or initiatives you know you’ll act on. Participants always want to make their point of view heard, but if it’s a idea, solution or initiative that won’t be acted on, nothing will occur creating resentment and disengagement for future meetings.
  • Meetings can amplify emotions. Praise will mean more and criticism can be more intense. Save constructive criticism for one-on-one meeting, but praise effusively in group meetings. Read your team, too. Finger-pointing meetings can become disastrous and these conversations should be brought under a problem-solving meeting at a later time.
  • Follow-up. Save 2-3 minutes at the end of each meeting to ask participants what’s working and what’s not. Then be sure to check in the next day to confirm all the next steps were clear.

Thanks for allowing us to share ideas our clients use in their businesses. Please feel free to share ideas you use effectively in the comments.