Fix Your Meeting!
We have all been there. The moment you left the meeting, and you feel that nothing got done. You are not alone. All organizations, whether it is a private business or a government entity, are guilty of it. Here are 6 tips to break out of that cycle!
What’s Wrong with Our Meetings?
There are an estimated 55 million meetings a day in the U.S. and on average professionals attend 15 meetings a week. This is a combined cost of $1.4 trillion a year. Yet not much productivity comes from having that many meetings. According to experts like Steven Rogelberg, an organizational psychologist at the University of North Carolina Charlotte and Priya Parker, a strategic advisor, it is because we are not putting much planning into our meetings.
Rogelberg in his book, The Surprising Science of Meetings: How You Can Lead Your Team to Peak Performance, explains that this commonly happens due to most leaders are not trained on how to run meetings. Even if they receive training, it is often to show a specific tactic or preferred technique, that might not improve the efficiency of meetings. At the organizational level, there is no internal accountability either from internal surveys or a designated person within the organization in charge of meetings.
How to Have a Good Meeting
Establish a goal.
Bureaucracy is under a stricter budget than ever, and time is money. According to Parker, If you are going to gather people, make it be over something that couldn’t have been answered in email. Your purpose for the meeting should be specific. The Project Management Institute recommends phrasing agenda items as questions to be answered, so as to limit scope creep or unproductive brainstorming. Establishing your goal early on will help keep the meeting focused and productive.
Set a better agenda.
In his article with Harvard Business Review, Rogelberg says we can make our meeting agenda’s stronger by changing one common approach: how we frame our agendas. Agendas are typically structured to reflect topics of conversation. Instead, we should structure them as questions we need answers too. For example, topic “New Business” instead should be framed as: “What pivotal updates should your teammates be aware of this week/month/timeframe?” By framing your meeting to answer questions, you are approaching problem solving at a great strategic level with a focus on being solution orientated.
Decide who should receive an invite.
Deciding who needs to come to the meeting you are scheduling is just as imperative as what is going to be discussed. Keep sizes small! Remember from tip #2, to frame your agenda as questions that need answers; who can help you answer these questions? Consider key stakeholders and decision makers. To avoid alienation of staff, ask for their input prior to the meeting, and assure them you will follow up with any new developments that may appear in the meeting.
There is no reason for a meeting to take an hour. Rogelberg explains that having an hour meeting is a custom that has been perpetuated by scheduling software. Meetings, like most work-related activities, will take up the amount of time it is allotted. If the meeting only needs 48 minutes, schedule only 48 minutes. When scheduling think to yourself: given your team’s goals how long should the meeting take?
Eliminate Unhealthy Peace and Be Ok With Healthy Conflict
Parker in her book, The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why It Matters, pinpoints the problems of meetings to an unhealthy peace. We do not want to bring things up to avoid offending co-workers and supervisors. We are afraid to ask questions that would make meetings better.
Be comfortable with asking questions like:
What is the purpose of this meeting?
If I am not needed here, can I leave the meeting?
This conversation is off topic, can we table it for a separate meeting?
The blog Ask A Manager has helpful tips on how to speak up at meetings and even how to advocate for less meetings to your manager.
Do not just abruptly end the meeting. Wrap it up by going over the answers for the questions you made in Tip#2. If you cannot come up with questions for the meeting, you should not have had the meeting to begin with. Send an email instead. Decide what are the next actionable items are, who will be responsible for those items, and assign a due date for those items. Finally, decide how you will follow up on those items.
If you want to learn more about meetings listen to this episode of the Freakonomics podcast.
You can read even more tips about meetings from Ask A Manager.