It’s a bright, weekday morning. You’re fully caffeinated and ready to tackle your to-do list. Within ten minutes you’re laser-focused, an efficiency machine. The spreadsheet seems to be filling itself! But then a calendar notification pops up: an impromptu staff meeting has been scheduled in thirty minutes. Shudder. Sigh. You know how these go.
90 minutes later, you’re wondering what exactly was accomplished over the last hour. The usual characters talked…a lot…but without saying anything of substance. (You did, however, get a blow-by-blow account of Nancy’s fantastic weekend cruise.) Later, a manager doled out tasks to no one in particular (“Someone will have to take care of this…”), and the next thing you remember, you were back at your desk with just as much to do and an hour less to do it in.
If this scenario feels familiar, you’ve suffered through your share of bad meetings. When you hold your next meeting, use these tips to make it meaningful and efficient. Then, next time, people might even want to attend!
Okay, so you can’t (and probably shouldn’t) cancel every meeting. But the point here is to evaluate whether a meeting needs to take place at all. For example, if the purpose of the meeting is to report progress or share news, why not send an email? The true power of a meeting is in-person collaboration. Complex projects require such collaboration, as do strategic decisions. Progress reports and other day-to-day updates usually do not. So, before you send that calendar invite, consider whether the goal of your meeting can be achieved by other means.
Always have an agenda, no matter what
Yes, even if the meeting is ten minutes long. Holding a meeting without an agenda is like driving to an unfamiliar destination without directions: you’ll get lost and you’ll waste time. The agenda details the direction and final outcome or goal of your meeting. It should list the exact duration of the meeting as well as the amount of time dedicated to each discussion item. Be accountable to the agenda. When the time is up, the meeting is done. Period. Also, remember to distribute the agenda in advance so attendees can prepare.
Use the parking lot
If your team is accustomed to time-sucking, inefficient meetings, you’ll probably have to squash off-topic conversations and tangents. This can be tricky, and at first you might face some significant pushback (after all, until now, Nancy has had free rein to talk about her weekend adventures). A great way to curb off-topic yet important conversation is to use the parking lot method. When your teammates stray from the agenda, politely affirm their point and then tell them that, since it’s not germane to the topic at hand, you will add it to “the parking lot”—a list that you will distribute after the meeting so folks can address those items at a later time.
Keep the momentum going
Usually, meetings are a tool to help teams gradually complete large organizational goals. It’s only natural that meetings generate actions items, to-dos, and additional independent work. Unfortunately, those to-dos tend to be forgotten after the meeting. To keep the momentum going, you must assign clear, time-bound tasks to specific individuals during the meeting. PPC’s recent Fall Conference speaker Mike Scott has a few ideas about how to do that. According to Scott, who specializes in organizational accountability, you should always agree upon a completion date and time for the tasks, have the assigned team member paraphrase or repeat the task, and then track the work. By assigning post-meeting tasks and following them through to completion, your meetings will truly matter and things will get done.
Bad meetings are all too common in today’s workplace, but with dedication and the right tools, we can banish them for good. How do you rein in bad meetings? Share your techniques in the comments!