Is there ANY business activity that receives more scrutiny than the venerable meeting? Its importance is enough to gain the attention of a Harvard Business professor, and business leaders are always ready to share their pearls of wisdom about the benefits and wastefulness of meetings. They are like coffee, the most studied “drug” (OK, caffeine) in the world.
I wanted to provide some background to the subject, and then I turned to people throughout the country who have probably given it even more thought than I have. Here’s what I know. Most of us want to limit meetings, but when we have one, we want it to be productive, usually measured in the simplest of fashion when a session answers two questions: Did I learn something, and did it turn into some productive action?
I would add that if there is one key ingredient beyond the various techniques suggested, it is the facilitator. That person holds the key to successfully implementing much of the advice given below. A conscientious facilitator, when incorporating effective tips, will usually foster a productive session. A weak facilitator will undo any good meeting practices because they lose control.
According to Nancy Koehn, a history professor at the Harvard Business School, more than 11 million meetings occur daily. That’s a lot of time. The downside is even worse. About half of the people surveyed don’t think they’re productive. (See http://bit.ly/1HOKpWA)
Former fund manager and author of Eat People: And Other Unapologetic Rules for Game-Changing Entrepreneurs, Andy Kessler had a superb column about meetings in the Wall Street Journal this year. (Indeed, it prompted the idea for this article.) Kessler points out how some executives handle the problem of meetings. Former Buzzfeed President Jon Steinberg used to set aside Tuesdays and Thursdays as no-meeting days, according to Kessler. If you’re in some kind of daily meeting, it helps to know when you can eschew the session and focus on the tasks.
Kessler points to a start-up executive who simply allows one topic per person and limits their presentation to 10 minutes.
But the best example he shared might have been the one about Craig Benson, Cabletron Systems founder and former New Hampshire governor. “At Cabletron, he ripped out conference-room tables and chairs and replaced them with bar-height tables and, get this, footrests,” according to Kessler. “Meetings magically were on point and ended quickly. No one has time for preening when everyone is shifting weight from foot to foot.”
Now that’s a novel way to hold and control a meeting.
A sampling of “meeting experts” who have pondered the best way to conduct a meeting include:
The Action Plan
My #1 tip for conducting meetings more effectively is to put together a list of action points at the end of the meeting for what needs to be done and who needs to do it. Then, at the beginning of the next meeting, review the list of action points to make sure that everything was accomplished.
All too often, meetings end without a clear understanding from all participants of what needs to be done after the meeting and who needs to do it. No matter how efficiently a meeting is run, if the points that were discussed in the meeting are not acted upon, the meeting was a complete waste of time.
David Waring, co-founder/editor-in-chief, www.fitsmallbusiness.com.
Enforce a Bullet Outline Approach for Everyone
The day before a meeting, ensure that everyone sends the issues or topics they wish to discuss to the chairperson of the meeting. These MUST be in bullet form.
The chairperson should compile ALL of these bulleted topics into a one- or two-page master agenda list that everyone receives before the meeting begins. This will keep the chairperson and the participants on track. It also allows participants to prepare any questions that they might have.
Christine D’Agostino, marketing manager, Carpenter Contractor Trust NY/NJ, www.cctnynj.org.
Meeting: Type & Time
1. Type “Meeting Agenda” – and give everyone in the meeting a copy.
2. Announce meeting start and ending times – and definitely start and end as scheduled.
By doing these two tips, the leader makes meetings organized and efficient and also serves as a ‘role model’ that work in the company should be done on time and on schedule.
Michael Mercer, Ph.D., industrial psychologist and author of Hire the Best & Avoid the Rest.
Take a Stand During Meetings
Use a standup desk. When people stand, they can still be friendly but get to the point faster.
Nicholas Konrad Langlie, Ph.D., director of innovation and entrepreneurship, Longwood University, www.longwood.edu/LUx.
What Kind of Meeting Is This?
Make meetings more effective by defining and using specific meeting types with precise objectives. This focus keeps the meetings short, effective and on task. The five most common meetings types:
Problem-solving meetings: Work through an issue, solve a problem. Limit attendance to those who can solve the issue and important stakeholders.
Decision-making meetings: Make a decision. This may be a presentation of options to the decision maker. The meeting is held when the facts have been investigated and you are ready to move forward.
Planning meetings: Plan a course of action. Like the problem-solving meeting, limit attendance to those who will execute the planned work and important stakeholders.
Status reporting/information sharing: This meeting is most likely NOT needed and is the easiest to eliminate. Its objectives can usually be more efficiently accomplished by other means. Those may be a written report or dashboard. It could be an on-demand webcast or simply an email newsletter. No need for an actual meeting unless there are likely to be a lot of questions, or you need interaction for political or motivational purposes. For example, reporting quarterly results and thanking the department may be better in a meeting than a memo.
Feedback meetings: Asking participants to react to recent events or information. Asking participants to evaluate proposals or when you want to listen deeply to others’ concerns (i.e., employees, customers, other departments).
Again, by defining the type of meeting and its purpose, you can more easily stay on track and know when NOT to meet.
Michael Fritsch, the SavvyCOO, president & COO, Confoe, www.confoe.com.