more productive meetings

Recently I read this article from Harvard Business Review which attempts to estimate the costs of running meetings in a company.

Whilst it is useful to measure things like the amount of time you are spending in meetings, we must be careful not to get rid of them altogether. Often people try removing meetings by replacing them with electronic communication. Instead, we need to have more productive meetings.

I have noticed a lot of meeting-bashing over the last decade or so, with people saying that meetings are a “waste of time”.

There has been a lot of discussion about the overuse of emails. People generally receive too many emails, most of which are not important.

There are some good reasons you should call meetings with your team. As with everything, balance is key, so you don’t want to go overboard where everything is a meeting. And you don’t want to do everything by email.

How to have more productive meetings

You don’t want to be one of those managers who calls pointless meetings. They can be costly and a waste of time if they aren’t appropriate. The next time you’re thinking of calling a meeting, make sure you thought about these three tips.

1. Have more productive meetings by having an agenda

This one may seem obvious, but there are lots of meetings out there without any agenda. Even if you have a list of bullet points to cover, this is often enough.

Consider making one of the first points stating the goal of the meeting. Talk about what outcome you want to achieved during the meeting. Then run through your agenda until you achieve your outcome.

If someone comes to the meeting without any idea why they are there, that’s a bad sign.

2. Have more productive meetings by keeping them small

Sometimes people are invited to meetings “just in case” or “just to listen”. You should think carefully whether these people should be invited at all, and remove them if not.

I once consulted to a government department who ran project meetings. We did an assessment on participation in the meetings based on looking at the recorded minutes for each session.

In some cases we found that there were 12 people in a meeting, when only 4 or 5 actually took part in the discussion. To have more productive meetings, cut out people who you don’t need.

3. Have more productive meetings by making them shorter

Have you noticed that in many meetings, the first part is spent chatting or waiting for late people? Don’t let that happen with your team.

Often, 45 minutes is all that you will require. It is slightly longer than 30 minutes, but leaves 15 minutes at the end for the meeting participants to debrief or go to their next location. Try this, it has the potential to save time and reduce unnecessary meeting time.

Most people choose 30 minute or 1 hour meetings. Choose 45 minutes. You might find this is the perfect amount.

4. Have more productive meetings by stopping when you’re done

Try your best to achieve the goals of the meeting and then finish straight away. Make sure you have a goal for the meeting first! Parkinson’s Law states that

Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion

and I think this applies equally to meetings as for any other work. If you book an hour and then finish after 45 minutes, leave the meeting. Otherwise you can be sure that people will chat for the remaining 15 minutes, because that was what was scheduled.

Meetings can be a waste of time, but they can also be very useful. In-person contact seems to be becoming less common, so use them to build a connection and observe your team.

As in everything, you need to strike a balance between too many and too few meetings when you’re communicating.