Love them or loathe them, for most of us, meetings are a weekly reality. Some would argue that they’re conducive to rapport building and are crucial for decision making, therefore are a necessary part of the working week. Others find meetings a waste of time, quite frankly.
No matter which side you’re on, one thing’s for sure: once you add together the hourly cost of everyone in the meeting room (or online platform), these divisive workplace get-togethers are expensive. In fact, a Fortune 50 company loses $75 million per year due to bad meetings.
With this in mind, it’s useful to ask yourself: is my meeting worth what I’m paying? We’re guessing many of you would say “absolutely not”.
In a report by Harvard Business Review, more than 70 percent of the 182 senior managers surveyed agreed that meetings are unproductive and inefficient. 65 percent said meetings prevent them from completing their own work, 64 percent claim they come at the expense of deep thinking and 62 percent believe they miss opportunities for team bonding.
So what are the key indicators of a bad meeting?
- There’s no clear purpose or agenda
- Participants aren’t participating
- Nobody’s prepared
- No decisions are made
- It takes longer than specified
- People leave deflated or disgruntled
Okay, enough negativity already!
Let’s take a look at how we can make meetings more successful at facilitating those eureka! moments.
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1. Be mindful
Mindfulness means paying more attention to the present moment – to your own thoughts and feelings, and to the world around you.
A workplace that appreciates mindfulness will go out of its way to promote certain practices and attitudes, such as inclusivity: ensuring that every voice is heard.
It’s much easier to be “present” in a meeting if you have a clear objective and know why you’re there because having a goal helps prevent the mind from wandering.
“The benefits of creating a culture of mindfulness and wellbeing are manifold. When the human mind and heart is cared for and listened to, everything else flows from there: creativity, motivation, engagement, kindness, connection and the inherent and universal longing and need to do well.” – Karen Liebenguth
2. Switch off devices
Or at least put them away / turn them to silent.
How many times have you been in a meeting and the conversation has started to meander a bit, so you take the opportunity to check your emails and reply to a couple, only to find that by the time you’ve hit send, the conversation has moved on and you’re totally lost?
Or worse still…
Someone has asked you a question and you’re none the wiser?!
Conversely, how many times have you bore witness to someone nonchalantly checking their phone while you’re in the midst of making an important point?
Both are annoying and neither are conducive to productivity.
That’s why it’s a good idea to have a no device policy in meetings (obviously this doesn’t include laptops for presentations and note taking, etc).
It’ll help keep people engaged and alert.
Instead of coming across all strict about it, perhaps you could have a fun rule whereby the first person to check their phone has to bring snacks to the next meeting.
3. Schedule the smart way
Habit has conditioned us into thinking that meetings need to be scheduled in half-hour chunks.
For some innate reason, we also feel as if they must start on the hour or half past the hour.
But why not throw caution to the wind and go rogue when it comes to timings.
Research shows that our attention in meetings really begins to wane after 10 to 18 minutes.
So keep them as short as possible!
Think about how long-ish it’ll take for you and your team to reach the necessary conclusions and schedule to that.
Otherwise, you’ll fill the remaining time procrastinating or talking about the weather, when you could be “deep thinking”.
“It [18 minutes] is long enough to be serious and short enough to hold people’s attention. It turns out that this length also works incredibly well online…The 18-minute length also works much like the way Twitter forces people to be disciplined in what they write. By forcing speakers who are used to going on for 45 minutes to bring it down to 18, you get them to really think about what they want to say. What is the key point they want to communicate?”
– TED curator Chris Anderson
4. Set SMART goals
SMART goals have been around for a while but they’re just as relevant today as they were in 1981 when they appeared in the November issue of Management Review by George T. Doran.
Since it was coined, the acronym has come to mean slightly different things to different people, but the essence of it has remained the same.
Specific (simple, sensible, significant).
Measurable (meaningful, motivating).
Achievable (agreed, attainable).
Relevant (reasonable, realistic and resourced, results-based).
Time-bound (time-based, time-limited, time/cost limited, timely, time-sensitive).
Use these as a tool for planning meetings and you can’t really go wrong.
5. Be flexible about it
Flexibility. It’s the business buzzword of the twenty-first century.
But it works.
Offering flexible working is proven to help staff recruitment and retention, and being flexible in meetings can help keep people motivated and engaged in the longer-term.
Don’t reprimand people for being late occasionally and give people an “opt-out” option if their presence isn’t 100% necessary. After all, nobody likes to feel like they’re being “told off”, but then again it’s important to have boundaries.
Finally, don’t be wedded to the same venue.
Try a walking meeting on for size or hold it somewhere outside, weather permitting.
Reading this article is your first positive step to making your meetings more productive.
As you move forward it’s good to bear in mind that, like anything in business, one size doesn’t fit all.
Try different strategies, keep a positive mindset and be flexible in your approach!