January 23, 2017
“Meeting” has become a dirty word. Diatribes against meetings exploded in recent years, on the grounds that they’re counterproductive and bad for business. Researchers estimate that unproductive in-house meetings cost U.S. businesses $37 billion in wasted resources.
That’s enough to scare any leader off meetings — especially startup founders who are struggling to stretch their capital as it is.
But meetings aren’t inherently bad. There’s no rule that every meeting must drag on two hours longer than necessary or that the majority of people involved must be superfluous participants who pay more attention to their phones than the discussion at hand.
When meetings are managed correctly, they facilitate progress and growth. But they should be scheduled for clear, specific reasons. Weekly briefings to keep team members on the same page can mitigate miscommunication, while brainstorming sessions may jump-start innovative thinking. Meetings held for the sake of having meetings? Not so much. Use the following rules to ensure that your organization’s meetings are both essential and productive:
1. Invest in Project Management Tools
Project management systems such as Asana allow team members to see which tasks they’re responsible for and to update their progress in real time. Such documentation removes ambiguity from the conversation during meetings. Instead of relying on “I thought,” “I assumed,” and “You said” to pass around responsibility, employees are held accountable for specific actions. Having this data in advance enables you to focus on priority topics instead of wasting time on mistakes caused by miscommunication.
2. Keep Participants to a Minimum
Be discerning about whom you invite to meetings. Every participant should have something vital to add. Let participants know why you want them in the room and what you expect them to contribute. If you have trouble trimming attendees, try thinking about this: What if a programmer had six more net programming hours a month instead of sitting in four 90-minute-long weekly meetings? Is he or she really needed in the meeting, or are those work hours better spent elsewhere?
3. Ban Nonessential Tech
Multitasking is the enemy of efficiency, especially in meetings. When people are reading emails or reviewing other work tasks, they’re only half-listening. Such behavior is not only rude, but it also detracts from the discussion. Eliminate distractions by banning smartphones and laptops unless they’re absolutely necessary. If a remote or traveling employee needs to be conferenced in, task one person with setting up the call. All other attendees should bring themselves and little else.
4. Set an Agenda and Stick to It
Before scheduling a meeting, ask whether it’s necessary. Can these decisions be made over the phone or through a quick huddle with key stakeholders? If the answer is no, schedule the meeting but send attendees a detailed agenda before you come together. Assign a timekeeper to monitor the clock and ensure that everyone stays focused. Don’t let meetings run past their scheduled end points; people stay on track when they know they’re on limited time.
5. Send out Meeting Summaries
Task someone with taking notes and sending out meeting summaries immediately after the discussion ends. Have them include any decisions made, as well as individual action items. Apps such as Minutes.io are useful for sharing notes and ensuring that everyone stays connected in the days and weeks after a meeting.
When you have the right philosophy toward meetings, they become tools that help your company level up. Consider whether you’re approaching meetings pragmatically or simply scheduling them on autopilot. If it’s the latter, revise your strategy to boost productivity and reclaim significant amounts of time and money.
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