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Making meetings more productive

Meetings! We need them, we may even love them, but sometimes they can turn into time-wasting affairs. Many of us have worked in offices where too little gets done because everyone’s days seem to get gobbled up in a series of meetings. In any environment, too many unstructured meetings can really hinder productivity.

So how can you make your meeting time leaner and meaner? Try introducing a set of reasonable “meeting rules” that everyone agrees to adopt, if only for the sake of efficiency. Some of these rules may seem a bit preachy or even obvious (especially to seasoned project managers), but implementing them can make a world of difference.

1. Do you really need this meeting?

This is the one question everyone needs to consider before they call a meeting. Ask yourself: can I advance my project and/or get what I need without a meeting? Can an alternative like a phone call, an email or a quick chat in a hallway work instead? You can also cut down on meetings (and emails) dramatically by connecting your team with a work hub instead.

2. Think twice about who you invite

Remember: time is money. If you assign an hourly rate to everyone in attendance and then add up those fees you’ll start to get an idea of what your meeting costs. So, separate the need-to-haves from the nice-to-haves and designate attendees as “optional.” To avoid scheduling email fiascos, make sure you share calendars in Outlook then review people’s calendars carefully to find a smart/convenient time to meet.

3. Set an agenda for every meeting

Holding meetings without an agenda wastes time and invites digressive conversations and debates. Your organization should require an agenda—clearly outlining the meeting objectives—from anyone requesting time. An effective way to share an agenda is in the meeting details of an Outlook calendar item itself. You can also attach relevant documents and pertinent links as “pre-reads” in the same meeting request.

4. Be punctual and demand the same

Teams can slip into the bad habit of showing up late to meetings, especially “internal” ones. Suffice to say, if you’re the organizer, you must show up on time. In fact, you should show up a few minutes early to prepare the room. (You can save set-up time if you use Windows 10 devices, which allow you to share screens easily.) And if you’re going to be late to someone else’s meeting, let them know as soon as you can.

5. Ban gratuitous laptops and phones

This rule is a toughie, especially in an era when we all feel pressure to respond to emails and tend to fixate on our phones. But if everyone can agree to shut laptops and pocket phones for the duration of your meeting, you’ll see a considerable upswing in engagement and better results. One person can agree to take notes while everyone else focuses on the discussion.

6. Reward your participants

When people give you their time, you should reward them for it by offering a nice experience. Drinks and snacks go a long way, but at the very least have a few bottles of cool water ready for participants. If you call a meeting during lunch, you may want to have some sandwiches on hand. Most colleagues will appreciate the effort you make to show some hospitality and respond in kind.

7. Learn how to brainstorm properly

Brainstorming sessions can change the world, but can also get derailed easily by skepticism or goofing off. Do a bit of research into the technique described by Alex Osborn in 1953. Creating a free-spirited and fun atmosphere is a must. Be sure to brief your team properly with pre-read material. And don’t overdo it! A small group (three or four people) can usually produce all kinds of great ideas.

8. Manage your meeting

Managing a meeting is a little bit like parenting kids—a “high-warmth, high-touch” approach works like a charm. You do not have to be a professional facilitator to direct the conversation, keep things on track and to provide positive feedback to participants. Take ownership of your meeting! Do everything in your power to make sure it’s productive, including ending it early if you must. Stay firm and in charge.

9. End it on time

Assume every meeting you have has a “hard stop” and try never to run late. If you respect your colleagues’ time, they’ll respect yours. Whenever possible, keep your meetings to no more than an hour. If you must host a marathon meeting, then prepare a schedule that organizes the conversation into separate subjects and include break times, so people can catch up on their email, take a quick call and what not.

10. Share next steps

“Next steps” are a must—they make meetings worthwhile. So be sure to follow up promptly after your meeting with an email to participants thanking them for their time and identifying next steps. Who does what next? Remind people of the objectives of the meeting then give each person their to-do’s in a simple bullet-point format.

Bonus tip: Patience is a must!

Keep in mind that there’s no easy fix. If you’re in an organization where the solution to every problem seems to be have a meeting, it may take a while and some frank discussions before things start to improve.

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