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6 Suggestions to Make Meetings More Productive

By Townes Haas   |    September 26, 2014   |    10:24 AM

How to Hold Meetings that Attendees Actually Find Useful

Everyone hates meetings. The reason for that is simple: Most meetings are boring, unproductive time-wasters. They pull people away from what they work they should be doing to listen to some talking head ramble on – often on subjects that have no relevance to many people in the room.

Yet, meetings still exist for a reason. They’re supposed to be a time to get caught up on news from the organization or what other team members are working on and may need help with. Meetings should be useful. Here are some tips to ensure that the next company meeting isn’t just another time-suck.

1. Have an agenda – and stick to it! One of the reasons why so many meetings go off track has to do with not pre-planning. It’s not sticking to what was supposed to be discussed. Meeting organizers should plan ahead and put together a comprehensive agenda. The items on the agenda should be discussed first. If Schedule time at the end of your agenda to discuss other items that come up during the meeting there’s time at the end, additional items can be discussed. Always send the agenda to everyone ahead of time.This provides time for people to think about what’s going to be discussed and to come prepared to answer questions or add to the discussion.

2. Keep the meeting small. While many people may feel that they have to invite everyone to meetings, don’t! According to the “Rule of 7”, “once you’ve got 7 people in a decision-making group, adding an additional member reduces decision effectiveness by 10%. As a result, large groups rarely make any important decisions.” This means that larger meetings are usually ineffective.

3. Shoot for 30 minutes. People are busy. They don’t have time for 60 to 90 minute meetings. Plus, most people start zoning out after 45 minutes or so. Meetings can be kept to 20 to 30 minutes, which is usually enough time to discuss any major topics. If the meeting is starting to run long, end it. Add another 30 minute meeting about the subjects not covered.

4. Track what was accomplished in the meeting. And that doesn’t mean taking attendance, which often comes across as demeaning or condescending to employees. Write down every important decision that was made in the meeting. While some meetings (i.e. brainstorming sessions or reviewing quarterly reports) may not result in major decisions, those should be few and far between. If every meeting doesn’t result in action items, then most of them should be eliminated.

5. Ensure that the meeting is run by an organized person. It’s common for the a director or VP to run meetings. But oftentimes, these aren’t the right people. They can be disorganized or long-winded. Instead, one person who’s extremely organized and authoritative should be put in charge. Executive assistants make excellent meeting organizers and timers: They are good at ending conversation on one topic and ushering in the next.

6. Don’t have meetings to just have meetings. It’s tempting to have meetings about every little item of discussion. But think about this: Can the question or task that needs addressing be handled some other way, i.e. email, phone call, etc.? If so, then skip the meeting. Also, meetings aren’t great always the best forum for creating business plans or strategy documents. They are good for getting input from the larger group and brainstorming new ideas.

Meetings can be extremely effective tools if used correctly. The number one rule is don’t waste employees’ or colleagues’ time. People need time to work, and meetings too often keep them away from doing just that.