Just about every business or organization needs to hold them. Meetings are an excellent way to gather team members to brainstorm and work on projects together. They’re also necessary for planning major initiatives and making tough decisions in the company.
The problem, however:
Not all meetings are valuable, and some are even downright harmful to an organization’s productivity and profitability.
Did you know?
Employees spend 31 hours on meetings per month on average. And how do meetings goers spend those hours? More than 90% daydreamed, 73% did other work, and 39% even slept during the meeting!
As a result, businesses in the United States lose $37 billion annually on salary costs all because of unnecessary and ineffective meetings.
The stats have spoken. We need to change the way we conduct meetings, and this guide will show you how to make them effective and productive.
The First Question To Ask
“Do I really need to call for a meeting?”
The answer depends on whether the outcome of the meeting will impact the organization in a big way. Here are three legitimate reasons to hold a meeting:
- To Make A Tough Decision: Rolling out major changes (ex.: overhauling your employee policy) without keeping your team on the same page can raise a lot of questions and misplaced fear. A well-organized meeting can allay your workforce’s biggest concerns and even increase buy-in.
- To Respond To A Crisis: Declining sales for the past three months, a data security breach, or a natural disaster are situations that require a meeting. Your business is fighting for survival and everything hinges on how you react as an organization.
- To Get Approval: You’re about to take on a major project (ex.: a big client just signed up). You and your team have come up with a plan. All you need to do now is get the right people to commit, and calling for a meeting is often a good idea.
If you’re still not sure if you should call for the meeting, then calculate how much it will cost. Better yet, use a meeting cost calculator such as this one from the Harvard Business Review.
You want to call for a meeting with the sales team to get an update on their progress.
The team is made up of four sales reps and a sales manager. Using the median annual salaries from US News, a 30-minute meeting with your team will cost $144.
Note, though, that the cost doesn’t take into account other factors outside of the meeting. This includes the time attendees spend going to the meeting and back or the loss of momentum.
Is paying $144 and ruining the momentum of your sales team to get an update and 30 minutes facetime justified?
In most cases, the answer is no.
Set An Agenda And Direction For The Meeting
The executives over at Amazon have a tight schedule. If you need to call for a meeting, you need more than a meeting agenda. You better be able to write a six-page document detailing the agenda. CEO Jeff Bezos calls these ‘narratives.’
Here’s Bezos’ justification for the requirement:
“Full sentences are harder to write…They have verbs. The paragraphs have topic sentences. There is no way to write a six-page, narratively structured memo and not have clear thinking.”
To ensure the meeting flows smoothly, Bezos requires attendees to spend the first 30 minutes of the meeting reading the document. Doing so eliminates many of the initial questions attendees may have, which can interrupt and derail the meeting.
Amazon’s approach to meetings will not suit every organization, of course.
But the message is clear:
If you want productive and effective meetings, you must ensure everyone is on the same page.
A six-page narrative may not be necessary, but you want a detailed enough agenda to steer the direction of the meeting. Here are the essentials the agenda must have:
- Set Start/End Times And Location: If a meeting starts late, it will end late. So be firm about start and end times. And don’t forget to double-check if no one else is using the space. If you switch to change locations, let every attendee know. Having to arrive at a room on time only to find the meeting is taking place in another is beyond annoying!
- Define The Meeting’s Objective: When writing down the objective, use clear Do away with words like “review” or “discuss.” If you need to get approval of the proposed digital marketing strategy, then say it as it is. A “discussion” of the marketing plan can go on for as long as people have something to say, obscuring the objective of the meeting.
- State The Decision-Making Process: Be clear on how the meeting will decide the issue under discussion. If group consensus is a must, you will want to poll the attendees. If you’re seeking input from the group but want an individual to ultimately decide, then write down the person’s name on the agenda.
- Appoint A Facilitator: A meeting can get chaotic, but a facilitator can get it back on track. Aside from keeping the discussion on point, a facilitator’s responsibilities include encouraging quiet members to speak up, end a discussion that’s going nowhere, and observe time limits for agendas to name a few.
Capture Notes During The Meeting
People will raise questions, share ideas, and voice concerns during a meeting. Don’t let these insights go to waste. Capture them with the right tools.
You can go the low-tech route with nothing more than a whiteboard, a marker, and a couple of sheets of paper. This simple set-up works best for small meetings with only 5 participants or less.
For larger meetings, however, you’ll likely need to source better audio-visual equipment.
You may need a projector and a fast fold screen to present data visualizations, important tidbits, and other information related to the agenda. If you need to poll attendees while maintaining anonymity, iPads or tablets with custom polling software are what you need.
However, you want to take notes, though, make sure you put them to good use.
End The Meeting With An Action Plan
You’ve done a lot of brainstorming. You, along with the attendees, have identified the essential steps in a major project. Not to mention you’ve got plenty of insightful notes, thanks to everyone’s participation.
But now what!?
At the end of the meeting, everyone may have different opinions on what transpired inside the room and what everyone should do next. If you don’t get attendees on the same page, you can bet nobody will take action based on the meeting.
So the lesson:
Always end your meeting with an action plan!
Make sure attendees know what they should do when they return to their stations.
Go back to the steps, notes, and other findings you wrote down. Right next to it, write down the name of the person responsible for that step or action. Doing so eliminates any confusion as to who should do what.
For good measure:
Review every action item at the end of the meeting and create a copy for every person involved.
For those complaints or comments that are related to the agenda (but are not actionable yet), you will want to visit and resolve those in the near future.
You might also like: 10 Tips for Running Efficient Meetings
About the Author
Nathan Sharpe is the entrepreneur behind Biznas, a blog where he serves practical business advice and tips to readers. Learning and helping others learn is his passion.