As published on Forbes.com
You come to the office on Monday morning, and after running through your email inbox, you realize that you only have a couple of minutes until your first meeting. It might be your weekly sales meeting, project meeting, operations, human resources, business development, or perhaps a monthly board or quarterly advisory meeting. If you are unlucky, you might have to attend multiple meetings like these. After the first meeting ends, you think to yourself “How can I avoid wasting time in unproductive meetings?”
The Problem With Most Meetings
When I am asked to evaluate sales and business development meetings, I notice a consistent pattern. Often, the person running the meeting asks each person to review their activity for the previous period of time. With whom did they meet? What did they accomplish? What do they have coming up? If each person covers these details in just ten minutes, then each set of six people requires an hour. Is this the best use of everyone’s time? What’s the purpose of the meeting, anyhow?
In annual sales meetings, it follows a similar pattern, only each person feels a need to share twenty to thirty minutes of detail about meetings, proposals, or phone calls. Is someone handing out stickers for the person who had the most meetings?
In project meetings, often I see people report on the progress over the past period. Board meetings discuss the performance to date. After all of the reporting, the participants will then raise a few issues where they seek input from the other attendees. What a waste of time!
When you drive your car, notice that the windshield (where you look forward) is rather large when compared to your rear view mirror (that shows what’s behind you). In most cases, the opposite is often true in meetings. Businesses spend too much time looking at meetings as a way to share historical information. This means that businesses spend insufficient time focused on the future and how others can help produce results. Instead, the meetings become a forum for each person to provide a detailed list of their activity. Unfortunately, activity rarely serves as an indicator for results.
How To Have Better Meetings
The reason to get everyone together should be to a) Share collective wisdom about solving an issue; b) Build consensus about an approach for a common objective; or c) Collaborate about a matter where each party can leave the meeting with a common vision about their objectives and how it fits into the big picture. Put another way, meetings need to have a purpose related to interaction. Here are things you can do to make meetings a better use of everyone’s time:
- Share In Advance: It might be valuable for others to know what you’ve been up to. Share a report with your colleagues about what you accomplished over the past period. You don’t need to read it to them in a meeting. Allocate sufficient time for attendees to review the materials;
- Define Where You Need Help: As part of an advance report, have a section that says “I would like input.” In that section, explain the issue you are facing where you’d like input or assistance from others. It might be something like “Discuss the following three options for resolving this customer service issue.” Remember to share the options and thoughts in advance so that the attendees can review your ideas prior to the meeting;
- Chart A Course: Remember, in a good meeting, you need to spend time focused on where you are heading, not where you’ve been. Be sure to have a clear plan and marching orders. Before everyone leaves the meeting, discuss and document the next steps and which steps each person will be taking to accomplish the shared mission/objective.
Unless your organization has a need to document the history of your company’s activities in detail, there is little value in discussing past activities in a meeting. You can share context, but, there is no need to say how many times you met with someone. Instead, focus on actions you can take to accomplish results. Use platforms like Google Drive, Microsoft SharePoint or IBM Connections to circulate information and aggregate feedback when it is convenient for the participants to contribute. You might get great feedback from a colleague while they are in an airport lounge. There is no reason for the entire team to sit in a meeting to discuss something that already happened. Read about it!
If you follow these guidelines, you can shorter your meetings, or maybe even hold fewer meetings.
It’s Your Turn
What habits have you implemented to make meetings more productive? What are your biggest pet peeves about meetings? Take the discussion to Twitter and LinkedIn and share your thoughts.