The word “meeting” often elicits audible groans. Middle managers spend an estimated 35% of their time in meetings. Upper managers spend half their time in meetings. But 67% of these meetings are woefully unproductive, costing businesses more than $37 billion a year. They’re a necessary evil, but they don’t have to be.
One key reason meetings are such a waste of time is that they’re doomed from the start by not having a plan or a process. Without a plan for how the meeting will go, it’s like Yogi Berra said: “If you don’t know where you’re going, you end up someplace else.” Without a clear process, you’ll have some very dysfunctional dynamics. Some people will talk too much, others not enough. Know-it-Alls will dominate and lead the group down irrelevant tangents; Whiners and No People will find fault with every idea, and Judges will nitpick every detail. Snipers will make distracting, snarky comments, and assertive people will finally have enough — turning into Tanks, declaring martial law, and attacking anyone in the way. Meanwhile, passive Yes, Maybe and Nothing people simply drop out, and it’s only after the meeting that you hear what they really think.
But there are five tactics for making sure a meeting is a productive, efficient, energy-building session. These are proven strategies that have helped keep meetings on track for my clients, including NASA, Boeing, and many Fortune 500 companies.
Here’s how to transform a meeting from a waste of time to a triumph in 5 simple steps:
- Identify the purpose of the meeting. The one legitimate reason for a meeting is so people can interact on a particular subject. If you’re holding the meeting just to present information, reconsider. According to the Cambridge Psychological Society, people remember only 9 percent of what was said — and recall half of it inaccurately —24 hours after a meeting. Also consider if the meeting is necessary or will cost too much: What is its time/benefit ratio? There’s the direct cost of what people are paid, and the costs of tasks not tackled because people are in a meeting.
- Create the agenda.An agenda is like a flight plan. Without it, you might as well be inflating a balloon, leaving the end untied, then letting it go on its wild way. Ideally, the agenda is created and distributed ahead of time. You need to know who is creating it, how people can get items on it, when is the cutoff time for adding to it, and when it will be completed and distributed. Each agenda item should include atitle, allotted timeframe, process (i.e. presentation, then Q&A, then 20 minutes for discussion), and two even more essential items:purpose ( a two-sentence statement explaining why this item is so important), and focus (what you want from the group regarding this item). Are you looking for possible negative side effects of a new policy? Ideas on how to streamline the workflow? You need both purpose and focus to keep the meeting on course.