Meetings are to be a pathway of connections; people, ideas, processes. Imagine a pathway connecting mountain ranges.
I once attended an executive meeting scheduled to last two hours. An agenda was not distributed, nor a preview of the meeting objective. Throughout the course of the meeting, we travelled down rabbit trail after rabbit trail, with no apparent end in mind. As I considered the individuals present, I realized that the time devoted to this meeting cost the company over $22,000 (this was guessing at the salaries).
It was at this point that I realized how a poorly executed meeting could cost a company thousands of dollars without positive ROI. Instead, our time was wasted and time is something that cannot be returned.
At my next staff meeting, my priority was to make those costly gatherings efficient and productive. I realize that no one deliberately plans to have an unproductive meeting. However, many do not take the steps necessary to ensure that a meeting is efficient and effective.
Having efficient and effective meetings does 3 things:
- Shows respect for people
- Uses company resources wisely
- Provides leadership momentum
Below are some of my personal “lessons learned” that I hope will provide you with assistance in conducting your meetings efficiently and effectively.
Prepare a finite agenda
Have you been in a meeting where the agenda is revealed and you realize that it is not possible to get to every item in the allotted time? You can actually waste time trying to rush through the agenda. This is not effective time management. I suggest that you set a finite agenda. Limit your items to areas that focus on your department goals and mission. Utilize the time on a few items that you can discuss thoroughly.
I have discovered that it is best to set a segment of time for each topic and stay with that topic. You can even have someone set an egg timer, or iPhone stop watch. This may seem extreme, but helps reduce or eliminate rabbit trail pursuits…, which we will review later.
Consider the invitation list carefully
How many times have you been in a meeting and 10 minutes into it wonder, “Why in the world was I invited?” Know what you are going to talk about and know who needs to be in the room. Too often people are brought in to meetings that have nothing to do with their workflow. That happens when someone does not think through the invitation list. A large meeting does not mean large results. Peel back the invite list and get the right people in the room.
Start on time, end on time
Researchers say that a meeting should not go over two hours in duration. It is my belief that two hours should only be reserved for complex items and/or brainstorming sessions. This is why; I limit my meeting times to one-hour whenever possible. Then, I make every effort to start and end on time. This establishes a level of trust and respect. It is important to recognize that people’s time is valuable and not respecting people’s time is a deflator.
Avoid rabbit trails
Now this is classic. More times than not, someone will go off on a rabbit trail. And that “someone” can even be the boss. Now, that rabbit trail may be a great idea, but if it is not the topic of the meeting, then make a note to come back to it later. If appropriate, you can even discuss the item at the end of the present meeting. Rabbit trails are not bad, but you need to focus on the meeting and on the issues at hand first.
Recap at the end of the meeting
At the end of a meeting, you should take a few minutes to restate what you have accomplished. Only review action items and key deliverables. This does two things. One, it ensures that all of you are on the same page and wraps up your time together. Secondly, it gives participants realization that they were part of something profitable even if the recap is only five minutes. In addition, if you made notes for additional meeting items ensure that you mention those, it will affirm the person(s) who had the idea.
A written feedback
I have attended numerous meetings where there was no feedback, follow up, or minutes. I learned the importance of a feedback early in my career from my former boss and friend, the President/CEO of Inspiration Networks and I now pass it on to you with confidence at its effectiveness: Every meeting deserves a feedback.
You can have a great meeting; but without a solid feedback, I can almost guarantee that some items will slip through the cracks. I encourage you, within 48 hours of the meeting, to send a written feedback to the attendees outlining what was discussed, action items to accomplish, and the agreed upon dates. This feedback can be written by a trusted note taker in the group or can be accomplished personally. The time spent on this is a worthwhile investment.
Now let’s recap the steps to having effective meeting:
- Set a clear finite agenda
- Make sure only the right people are invited
- Start on time, end on time (or early if at all possible)
- Avoid non-agenda rabbit trails
- Verbally recap the discussion at the end of the meeting
- Send a written feedback to attendees within 48 hours of the meeting
Meetings will be here forever, but their effectiveness is up to us.