4 Tips For Better Meetings

Meetings always take time. The question is, “Are you doing time, killing time, or using time?”

If you’re like most people, you’ve gone to an awful lot of meetings. Unfortunately, a lot of those meetings were a waste of time. You spent hours and hours in meetings but those meetings did little, if anything, to help you, your team, organization, or customer.

Sometimes you felt punished having to go to those meetings. You felt like you were in prison, “doing time,” when you would have preferred to be somewhere else. At other times, you didn’t mind getting away from your job for a little while. Even though the meetings were notoriously unproductive, you didn’t mind “killing time” at the meeting, just because it gave you a change of scenery.

Well your meetings don’t have to be that way. Indeed your meetings shouldn’t be that way. In today’s tight economy, organizations can no longer afford the luxury of a wasted meeting. When you consider what people are paid these days, a one-hour meeting of ten people will cost an organization hundreds of dollars. You better have something to show for it.

So how do you make sure your future meetings will be “using” time appropriately and productively? Follow these procedures.

START WITH A CLEAR PURPOSE. Know why you’re having a meeting in the first place. It’s not a good-enough reason to say, “We always meet on Thursday.” Imagine how excited people would be if they knew irrelevant meetings would be cancelled, and all future meetings would have a real and important purpose. Just don’t forget to tell your team members — in advance — what is the purpose of the upcoming meeting.

Second, BUILD THE AGENDA WITH YOUR TEAM. Many teams don’t use written agendas for their meetings, but if they do, it is usually created by the team “leader.”

That’s not the best approach. In fact, that approach will significantly reduce the amount of participation at your meetings. The team members will feel like it’s your agenda and your meeting, so you can run it without their full participation.

By contrast, it works a great deal better to ask your team members for their input before the meeting. Ask each person what he or she wants on the agenda. It will create a sense of ownership that almost always results in a better meeting.

Then ANNOTATE THE AGENDA. In other words, do more than list the agenda items. That will leave your team members in the dark. And when people don’t know how each item will be treated, they also hold back their full participation.

I suggest that each agenda item have four annotations: time, purpose, process, and outcome. On “time,” give each agenda item an odd time frame, such as 9:12 a.m. to 9:38 a.m. It says you’ve given some real thought to how much time each item should take, whereas rounded-off numbers appear to be nothing more than guesses. Then, of course, stick to those odd time frames if at all possible.

For “purpose,” add a brief sentence to each agenda item that tells why that item is on the agenda. Tell your team members why that item is worth their valuable time and attention.

“Process” refers to how each agenda item will be handled. Very few teams or organizations ever bother to address this issue. They just handle every agenda item the same way; they talk it to death. Instead, annotate each item with the process that would be most appropriate and will be utilized. So you might write such processes as “brainstorm,” “discussion,” “question/answer,” or “presentation.”

Then add an “outcome” statement. In other words, describe what is to be done with each agenda item. You might insert such descriptions as “information,” “decision,” “action planning,” or “implementation.”

Once you’ve done all that work, PUBLISH THE AGENDA IN ADVANCE. It will get people thinking about your meeting, and it will tell them what thoughts or resources they need to bring to your meeting.

Try these tips. You’ll find your team going from “Harrumph” to “Hurrah” the next time they approach a team meeting.

Action:  Take a look at the agenda for the next meeting you attend. If you find today’s tips being utilized, give yourself or the team leader a pat on the back. If you find some of these tips missing, add them to your agenda. Or tell your team leader that you’d like to see some of the tips incorporated into the next agenda.