Meetings: Worth Their Weight in Gold or Colossal Waste of Time?

Most of us hate meetings. But, if we’re honest, they can be a vital link to making sound business decisions  If you can bring together all the key players armed with the right information, and run the meeting well, chances are you’ll make the best, most informed, decisions possible.

Of course, that’s in a perfect world where you ride unicorns across rainbows to deliver you to the giant pots of gold sitting at the end. In the real world that most of us live in, 9 out of 10 meetings blow.

It’s true, meetings do sometimes provide a break from the fast-paced work environment … can be nice to have interaction with others … and when you’re being exceptionally brilliant with the ideas, it’s nice to have an audience. But if half your meeting time is spent listening to chitchat … cooling down that one co-worker that is offended by everything … or waiting on the Perpetually Late Dude, that’s wasted time. Multiply that time by the number of people in the room and a one-hour meeting with eight people (that should have been a 15-minute meeting with four) has just swollen to eight wasted hours.

If you’re initiating the meeting, you have much more control over what happens. To cut down on wasted time, here are a few things to try at your next meeting:

  1. Do you need to meet? If you’re just sharing information, you can do that through an email. If it’s more than a paragraph of information, include it as a document and attach it to the email so people can print off a clean copy. Even the preliminary discussion points can be disseminated ahead of time so that the meeting can be the time for a brief discussion … BRIEF DISCUSSION … and making a decision and assigning necessary tasks. During the discussion, if new information comes up that needs further investigation, call another meeting at another time. Debate between team members can be done another time.
  2. Set a definite start and end time and stick to it. Don’t wait for stragglers, and definitely don’t stop to recap what you’ve discussed so far. It’ll be their responsibility to catch up after the meeting. If they’re chronically late, talk to them separately about the time lost by those waiting and ask if there is anything you can do to help them get there five minutes early next time. Stick to the end time, the pace will be faster. Consider setting end times that cut your normal meeting times in half (like turning hour-long meetings into 30 minutes).
  3. Have goals and an agenda. Handing out an agenda beforehand lets everyone know exactly what this meeting is about and helps to keep the event on task. Items on the agenda should be things you’ll make a decision on and commit to doing.
  4. Who’s invited? Keep it simple. Only invite people who need to be there, will contribute, or who has a role after the decision is made. Encourage everyone invited to be involved in the decision.
  5. Stay on task. Tell participants up front that you’ll be working to keep the meeting short and on topic. Tangents should be tabled for another day. Chitchat should be limited. Assign a moderator to help enforce this. If it is a department meeting and is a little less formal (i.e. no execs involved) a Nerf® gun does wonders for keeping things on track. I’m just sayin’ ….
  6. Careful notes will help everyone stay on the same page. Strategically assign a note-taker, who could be the person who usually talks too much. Or, it could be the quietest person who always has great ideas but neglects to share them out of shyness or fear. Let them do a recap at the end. End the meeting making sure everyone knows what their assignment is and when a follow-up meeting will be.

Don’t waste your time or that of your meeting participants.  To recap … first, decide if you really need to meet. Then set some goals for the meeting and a strict beginning and end time.  Invite only the key people.  Keep them on task. And when you’re finished, summarize and send them off with a specific plan for what’s next and who’s doing it. And just think, if you show everyone else how it’s done, more people will start taking your lead and meetings will become a productive tool and just think where that could lead! Easy peasy lemon squeezy … hey, is that a unicorn?


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