Brainstorming sessions with a few people, a command performance by the CEO, power plays and endless speeches by people who like listening to their own voices – meetings can be a colossal waste of both time and money. Not to mention demoralizing, boring, and frustrating.
Truthfully, meetings top the list of the thing I miss the least about working in a busy office full of creative people. I miss collaborating with brilliant art directors, artistic photographers, and talented graphic artists – but I don’t miss meetings.
According to Atlassian, the developer of Trello and other business applications:
- 47 percent of employees think that meetings are the No. 1 time-waster.
- 45 percent feel overwhelmed by the number of meetings they attend.
- 91 percent admit to daydreaming during meetings.
- 73 percent said they do other work; and
- 39 percent of people say they sleep during meetings.
At the same time, meetings are a necessity. In fact, you could say that meetings are the lifeblood of any organization – decisions are made, important communications are disseminated, responsibilities are delegated.
Develop the Proper Agenda
Keeping several key things in mind when designing and executing a meeting can help make it more efficient and less time-consuming, and may even make it a pleasant, productive experience for everyone involved.
Forbes contributor Phil Lewis, in February’s story, “Nine Questions That Will Get Your Meetings Working Harder For You,” recommends paying extra attention to designing a hyper-focused agenda that delineates meeting objectives, decision points and criteria, discussion flow with time allotted for each element, and the means of measuring the meeting’s success.
These days my meetings are limited to project-related, focused discussions with clients about their objectives, deadlines, and budgets. Without exception they are pleasant and productive thanks to my clients’ attention to detail and commitment to the value of time.
Advance Planning Pays
It pays handsomely to plan beforehand for potential problems and roadblocks, Lewis notes. “The old saying that there are no shortcuts to anywhere worth going is as true of organizational process as it is of anything else in life,” Lewis writes. “Any meeting worth having will likely contain unanticipated twists and turns.
“This points to another inconvenient truth: you can be efficient with everything but people, who are prone to be full of surprising challenges and objections,” he adds. “A failure to anticipate this – and a desire to keep the conversational wheels turning at all costs when challenges arise – is a major source of inefficiency in meetings all over the world.”
To be sure, laying the foundation for a successful meeting starts well ahead of the actual event. Thinking ahead to what might happen takes just a few minutes, but is time well spent. Perhaps most important, each participant should be well aware of their responsibilities during the meeting and arrive prepared to participate fully.
Consider the Format
Moving back one step, Lewis recommends carefully considering the type of meeting that will be most effective for your objectives, noting that a budget discussion requires a different environment than a sales presentation. I’d add that for creatives, small-group brainstorming sessions can be most efficient – and can provide the motivation participants require to get excited about the projects they’re collaborating on.
“The problem most organizations face is that in effect they plan for only one mode: The Meeting, an ill-defined blob of conversational ennui where no-one is clear about how they are required to behave,” Lewis explains. “This is a huge productivity killer.’
He recommends planning the agenda based on the scope and type of involvement required from participants, the goals and objectives, and the time required, among other key issues.
Invite the Right People
Carefully analyzing who should attend a meeting – and eliminating the individuals who rarely if ever make meaningful contributions – frees people up to be more productive elsewhere while adding the greatest value to the meeting itself.
One-on-one pre-meeting conferences can pinpoint the ways participants can contribute effectively to the event. Sometimes a moment of conversation can prompt positive anticipation of a collaborative meeting and unearth important issues to be addressed.
Analyze and Refine the Approach
An important point Lewis makes is that most organizations ignore the characteristics of various types of meetings. “They can be positive or negative; creative or destructive; fluid or static; vital or deadening; collaborative or antagonistic; caring or devil-may-care; didactic or democratic,” he writes.
Efficient leaders can ask their teams candidly to evaluate the efficiency and effectiveness of their meetings in real time, to invite debate on how and why to make necessary changes, and thus liberate participants to do their best work. Open communication about housekeeping issues could be a game-changer for your organization’s least-favorite pastime and make meetings pleasant and productive for all.