Conducting More Effective Meetings: 8 Steps

For more information, please see this article from USA Today

“If you had to identify, in one word, the reason why the human race has not achieved, and never will achieve, its full potential, that word would be ‘meetings.”
– Dave Barry

We all attend them, participate in them, and to varying degrees, loathe them. The meeting. One study estimates that executives spend close to ½ of their time, during working hours, in meetings. Numerous studies, with varying results, estimate over 10 million meetings occur – each day.

A decade old University of Arizona/University of Tulsa study found estimates of meeting expenses range from costs of $30 million to over $100 million a year – a decade ago! Meetings can be an organizational “silent killer” as you are literally losing money while ruining morale. If an organization found a project that was continuously losing money, leading nowhere and causing top flight employees to leave, what do you think it might do?

I have worked with countless senior executives whom have meetings scheduled every hour, on the hour. No time to return phone calls. Or use the facilities. Or think. When I ask when the executives actually do the work, the answer is always the same – at night.

If you are in meetings all day, an organization doesn’t just lose productivity, employee satisfaction and a boatload of money. It loses groundbreaking ideas, new concepts and new approaches to handle a dynamic marketplace. In other words, it doesn’t just cost thousands today; it will cost many more thousands tomorrow.

Here are steps you can take today to save a lot of money:

  1. Set an Agenda – Not just an agenda stating what is going to be discussed. An agenda should also have a…
  2. Clear Call to Action – What is the purpose of the meeting and what should be accomplished? What does success look like? A document? A decision? An agreement? Even if you don’t achieve every objective, have clear objectives laid out, in writing, and discuss where you are with each before the meeting ends.
  3. Clear expectations for every employee – Who is responsible for what, both before the meeting begins and when it wraps up? Who is responsible for following up? Articulate this out loud – assumptions are a dangerous game.
  4. Pre-meeting homework – I have sat through hundreds of meetings at myriad organizations, and invariably a few people come un-prepared. A defined agenda with clear goals, defined assignments and a clear call to action get people thinking before they enter the room. (Hint – you want this).
  5. Hard start and end times – all meetings can get off track – a lack of preparation and clearly defined goals guarantees this will happen, which will lead to…. another meeting.
  6. Break the cycle – have two less formal meetings a week, and see what happens. Give defined assignments and give people a bit more time to accomplish them, rather than just scurrying to create a last minute work product in their “free time.”
  7. Film a few – sounds tedious, and you certainly don’t want to film every meeting, but if you lead over 25 meetings a year, the one hour investment of watching the tape will show you where meetings go off track, and where you lose time.
  8. Communication Training – If you were paying each employee by the hour, meetings would be a lot more concise. It is critical that every member of your team knows how to a) put together a message and b) deliver that message accurately, concisely and clearly.

Time is a precious commodity, and it is crucial that employees can convey and articulate concepts, arguments and facts succinctly and quickly. Senior executives simply don’t have time for an employee to take twenty minutes to make a point that could be made in two.

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