Five ways to make your meetings more productive

Hands up those of you who have sat through completely pointless meetings at work. There’s no clear agenda, people are rambling on about stuff that doesn’t affect you and most of your colleagues are surreptitiously checking their emails rather than focusing on what’s going on.

You’re not alone. Research suggests that 67 per cent of us think meetings are a complete waste of time and fail to result in any concrete actions or conclusions.

It’s frustrating for those who are taking part – but it’s also a serious issue for organisations and Business Leaders. Unproductive, poorly managed meetings take time, cost money and take employees away from more important tasks. Part of the problem is that managers often convene meetings without thinking first about whether one is really needed. They hold a recurrent meeting without fail, even if there isn’t really anything new to say, or set up a formal meeting with a colleague or team member when a quick phone call or email would do.

Of course there are times when a meeting is necessary. So what is best practice when it comes to making sure the meetings you hold are purposeful and effective?

1. Have clear objectives

Make sure you are clear about exactly what you want your meeting to achieve and who needs to be involved. Send any relevant documents or briefings out to participants in advance so that they have time to absorb the information and start to formulate their thoughts and ideas. Ensure everyone you’ve invited will have a contribution to make – and that they are clear about what input is expected of them. It’s also important to tailor the discussion to the people in the room. If senior directors are attending, they will be interested in the strategic overview but won’t want to be bogged down in the fine detail. Those responsible for implementing decisions will, however, need to get into the nuts of bolts of what they are being asked to do.

2. Consider the timing

Think carefully about both the timing and duration of meetings. Friday at 4.30pm clearly isn’t going to be a time when people are at their most creative or engaged. But early morning meetings can also be difficult for people who have caring responsibilities or need to drop children off at school. Your meeting won’t get off to a good start if people are bursting through the door in stages after it’s begun. If it’s possible, think about the working patterns of the people involved and schedule meetings at a time when they can arrive relaxed and focused. It’s also important to give some thought to how long your meeting needs to be. Do you need all the participants to be present for one, lengthy meeting, or would it be better to have several smaller, more focused meetings with key people.

3. Make it inclusive

Make sure everyone who is at the meeting has an opportunity to have their say. With people who are naturally introverted, you may have to make a conscious effort to draw them in. Be aware that introverts are typically ‘reflecters’ and prefer not to be put on the spot. They will come up with great ideas and insights, but you need to give them time to think and prepare. Be careful not to let any one person dominate the conversation. If people are being very opinionated, are going off track or are using the meeting as an opportunity to vent their frustration about a particular issue, you may need to pull them back. Try suggesting the subject is discussed further outside the meeting or gently point out that it’s now time for others to have a turn.

4. Engage virtual participants

As organisations become both more flexible and more global, we are seeing a shift towards meetings that are either fully or partially virtual. You may have a meeting via a platform like Zoom, for example, which brings people from different locations together in a virtual space. Or maybe one or two of your team are logging in to a meeting from home or while they’re on the move. Engaging people in virtual meetings can be a real challenge. Make sure you don’t miss out the social niceties that typically happen at the start of the meeting, just because people aren’t physically present. If you give everyone a chance to check in and say hello, they will feel part of the meeting from the outset. Making a conscious effort to bring everyone into the discussion is even more important in a virtual environment. If people are not being encouraged to play an active role they will very quickly become disengaged and lose concentration. Conference calls, where people can’t see each other’s facial expressions or body language, can be particularly tricky. These are easier to manage if numbers are kept small so that people can work out who is speaking and aren’t constantly interrupting each other.

5. End well

Respect participants’ time by making sure you finish on schedule. Everyone is busy and if a meeting is planned and managed properly, there is no reason for it to over-run. Summarise the key action points at the end so that everyone is clear about next steps and what they personally need to do. It’s also good practice to follow up quickly with an email confirming what’s been agreed and setting clear timescales, so that things don’t get forgotten or pushed to the bottom of the pile. If people can see that meetings are actually having an impact and helping to push projects forward, they will be happy to devote the time to preparing and actively participating.

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