How to have Efficient Meetings

I once asked a senior manager what his role was, and he told me he was a ‘professional meeting attender’. What he meant was that he wasted far too much time in meetings where people locked horns, traded opinions and failed to listen to each other.

In fact, the root of the word discussion means to ‘smash apart, scatter or disperse’ and many meetings follow this principle, becoming an exasperating process of breaking up and piecing back together. People compete to get a word in, meaning that there are few – if any – pauses between people speaking.

How can you make sure that your meetings are more effective? Here are some questions to ask:

1. What’s the purpose of the meeting?

If you don’t clarify this at the start, the conversation is liable to stray and it’s harder to rein it back mid-way through the meeting. If you get the purpose clear at the outset, you can challenge each other if you think it’s going off track.

2. What sort of meeting do you need?

For example, does it need to be an hour-long sit-down meeting or would a 15-minute stand-up meeting suffice? Or if you’re under pressure on a project, some teams meet for 5 minutes every hour. It’s worth taking a minute to consider the best option before you send the invite out.

3. Who needs to be there?

Some people get their sense of self-worth by always needing to be included, but this is horribly unproductive. If it’s not essential for you to be there, decline the invitation and spend the time doing other work. The people who attend will probably get on perfectly well without you.

4. How long does it need to be?

Meetings that are scheduled for an hour almost always last an hour because we extend the conversation to fill the time we’ve allocated in our diaries. If you’ve got what you came for, complete the meeting and give yourselves some time back.

5. What agreements are needed?

If you don’t have any agreements in place, all manner of bad behaviors tend to creep in. People text and do their emails during the sections of the meeting that don’t directly involve them, while the others end up shouting each other down. In particular, it’s important to have agreements around how you listen to each other, rather than simply trading biases. If you don’t do this, you may as well not have the meeting at all.

6. What commitments or actions will you take on? 

It’s a fact that lack of clarity costs more than your time and effort; it also costs money. One way of mitigating this is to leave time at the end your meetings to review your conclusions, clarify accountabilities and agree actions.

Make sure that promises and requests are clearly articulated, with specified outcomes to be delivered by an agreed time.

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