How to make your meetings more productive

Think about the last meeting you attended. Was it well organised? Did it start on time? Perhaps it finished with clear actions for everyone to work on? If you’re shaking your head, you’re not alone.

According to research from eShare, the average office worker spends more than ten hours every week preparing for, and attending, 4.4 meetings – 59% of which are considered unnecessary.

That figure becomes even more damning when you realise 24% of respondents said the same results could often be achieved with a few quick emails. Research from Microsoft Training revealed that the average SME employee attends 207 meetings a year, 67% of which are deemed unproductive.

Clearly meetings need to change. However, understanding that need and actually instigating it are two different things.

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Does this need a meeting?

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“Excessive meetings are the blight of big companies and almost always get worse over time,” Tesla CEO Elon Musk wrote in an email to his employees. “Get rid of frequent meetings, unless you are dealing with an extremely urgent matter”.

Musk’s advice is that the number of meetings should “drop rapidly once the urgent matter is resolved.”

“Walk out of a meeting or drop off a call as soon as it is obvious you aren’t adding value. It is not rude to leave, it is rude to make someone stay and waste their time.”

“It is rude to make someone stay and waste their time”

Musk may have put it strongly, but he hits upon a key point. Meetings sap up business resources, drain worker energy and swallow time that could be put to better use elsewhere.

That’s not to say meetings don’t still have a place. However, they should be carefully structured to remain useful. A meeting that results in no tangible actions is a waste of time and energy.

“Many small businesses hope outcomes will emerge organically from discussion,” says Nigel Davies, founder of digital workplace Claromentis. “If people are encouraged to develop their thoughts and ideas ahead of the meeting and turn up prepared, it’s possible to get far more out of a meeting in a shorter space of time.”

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Workplace collaboration company Asana goes so far as to have “no meetings Wednesdays”. Company co-founder Justin Rosenstein explains the decision as a means to help people understand the best way to communicate. “The first question to ask yourself is: ‘is a meeting to talk about this really going to be a productive use of everyone’s time?’

“Most of the information we tend to cover in meetings doesn’t need to be communicated in a room, or to a roomful of people.”

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How to improve your meetings

If your business is suffering from baggy meetings, what can you do to make sure they’re as efficient and effective as possible?

Ask if you really need a meeting

Before calling a meeting, take the time to think about what the meeting is actually for. Could it be achieved without a meeting? If so, don’t have one.

Invite the right people

Only invite people that need to attend the meeting. Like out-of-control email CC’ing, meetings can become bloated with attendees that have little or no contribution to make.

Watch the clock

Meetings should never go on for hours. Concentration begins to wane after an hour. It’s up to the person leading the meeting to stick to the agenda and avoid conversation going off on a tangent – a surefire way to lose productivity across the entire meeting. Set yourself strict start and end times to adhere to.

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Capture goals ahead of time

As Asana’s Justin Rosenstein explains: “Start adding things to your meeting agenda as they come up rather than creating a meeting agenda on the fly.

“By the time the meeting starts, you’ll know what you want to cover, and what you hope to accomplish in the meeting itself. Bonus: you’ll gain back the first ten minutes of the meeting, usually spent figuring out what you’ll be talking about.”

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Guaranteed outcomes

Meetings should always have an agenda that result in a set of clearly defined actions that can be assigned to individuals or groups. These actions should also have stated outcomes and timeframes for their completion. You can follow these up at the next meeting to ensure the goals have been achieved or are on track.

Do you need to sit?

One recent trend is for stand-up meetings, the idea being that it’s harder for attendants to become distracted and so conversation will be swift and dynamic.

There’s evidence to support the idea that standing for a period of time in the working day can improve your health, and thus a standing meeting is also seen as beneficial to health. Not all meetings can – or should – be standing, but when quick conferences are needed, it’s an efficient way to talk with smaller groups.

READ NEXT: Why all businesses should put email down and learn to love Slack

Use technology to connect your workers

Aside from simply getting people up out of their chairs, meeting culture is changing to adopt new technologies to improve communication. With the rise of flexible working, technology has rapidly evolved to meet the needs of geographically remote teams.

“We are already seeing how virtual platforms are becoming the norm in how we hold meetings,” says Prajit Nanu, CEO and co-founder at cross-border payments company InstaReM. “I’m regularly on video meeting calls on platforms such as Zoom or GoToMeeting, or even Slack and WhatsApp.”

Don’t replace a dozen ineffective physical meetings with a dozen ineffective virtual ones

You don’t want to spend half the time of your meeting wrestling with technology that refuses to work, but use digital platforms effectively and it can be a great way to bring teams together for quick, efficient meetings. This is increasingly becoming the norm, as businesses shift towards remote working.

Remember, though, that you don’t want to replace a dozen ineffective physical meetings with a dozen ineffective virtual meetings. As Davies says, “meeting technology will continue to evolve to better support remote working practices, but replacing meetings with asynchronous discussion rooms won’t suffice – you might as well just start an email thread.

“The whole reason why meetings win is because it’s the chance to concentrate your most brilliant minds on one thing, at the same time, and get them bouncing off one another. That’s how creative genius can flourish, and innovation can happen.”

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