Five Ways to More Effective Meetings

Posted on September 16, 2011.

In my former life at a Fortune 100 company, meetings were a way of life. The company ostensibly sold financial  services, but what they did best was bring meetings to an art form.  As a manager there, it was not uncommon to have 30 hours of meetings in a typical 50-hour workweek.  If you wanted to do actual work, you had to do it at home. Coming in early or late sometimes worked, but the “brown nosers” would mirror your workday to look good and you’d never be alone.

There is a great talk on the TED website by Jonathan Fried called “Why work doesn’t happen at work”.  If you have 15 minutes, it’s well worth the time.  He basically blames the inability to get work done at work on what he calls M & M-Managers and Meetings. I don’t disagree with him and I like some of his suggestions like “No talk Thursdays”, but there are ways to have meaningful, effective meetings.  Here’s how:

  1. Eliminate standing meetings. Whether they’re weekly or monthly, if they’re scheduled by date not necessity, they’re a waste of time.  People spend time preparing for the meeting instead of creating, building, or selling. This is the lazy managers way of getting information all at once. It may help you but it’s a waste of time for your staff. If you want to know what going on, either build a scorecard or create an easy pre-formatted email people can fill out in 10 minutes and send to you.
  2. Create an agenda and stick to it. Assuming for a minute you have to have a meeting, then make sure you have prepared a tight agenda. The agenda should have approximate time limits and most importantly, a concrete end time.  If you run out of time, you did not pre-plan the meeting well. Maybe it should have been two meetings or you could have left off items better discussed one-on-one.
  3. Schedule conference calls early or at lunch. I’m not a big fan of conference call meetings but with today’s virtual workforce, it’s a necessity. If you schedule them after the workday starts, too much multitasking and interruptions occur.  Lunch can work if people are willing to listen and eat at the same time, but this time slot should not be used when technical or complex material is being shared.
  4. Use visual aids. Whether it’s an in person meeting or conference call, you need to have some visual support for the information you are either disseminating or gathering.  If by phone, you can use on line meeting aids to share power points, spreadsheets, etc.
  5. Make the meeting interactive.  If the only thing you do in the meeting is talk, then I would question why you didn’t just send an email to your staff and be done with it. There needs to be a reason you pulled all these people together. Are you brainstorming? Demonstrating a new product? Do you have Q & A built into your agenda? Figure out why these people are being brought together or cancel the meeting!

The very first thing you should do before even scheduling a meeting as really ask yourself, “ Is there another way to get xxx accomplished?”  And if you’re honest with yourself, ask yourself if the real reason you called a meeting is to make your life easier. 

How many time wasting meetings do you attend?