Let’s get better about meetings. Let’s agree that often we meet for no other reason than to catch up on what’s happening because we’re disorganised to start with and this is simply a very bad reason to be meeting. Let’s move towards smart … it makes for happier work.
Below are 11 actionable ways to reduce meetings, maximise time spent in meetings when they are necessary, and to ensure that what gets discussed in meetings actually gets actioned afterwards:
1. Have a Reason
Many meetings are simply recurring for the sake of it. Many people attend meetings, unsure about what will be discussed. This is time wasting at its very best. Ensure that when you’re calling a meeting every attendee knows the purpose/goal/aim of the meeting to start with.
2. Double Check Your Meeting Motive
Are you pulling the team into the meeting because collectively discussing a project is the best way to proceed forward or because you’re too lazy to discuss each person’s role and task list with them individually? If you’re strapped for time and need to bulk management a group of people, do not haul people into meetings unnecessarily while you drone on about project elements that only pertain to certain people. Keep people focused on their key deliverables.
3. Create an Agenda
It’s obvious but virtually no one ever does it. My English writing teacher always said that the person who spends two thirds of their time planning their essay and the other third writing it, always achieved higher marks. The success of most things in life, lies in the preparation, not in the execution. Think about what you want to meet about, define the goal, and communicate these things to everyone in attendance for more productive meetings.
4. Task People with Preparation
Following onto point 3 above, it is advisable to be specific about how you want people to prepare for a meeting: what should they bring with, what should they present, and what do you intend to hear from them. This is part of the planning that will go a long way to reducing the wasted time within meetings. When people are given specific instructions, they deliver better results.
5. Assign Time
Having an agenda is only a third of the battle won. The next third is assigning time allocations to each item on said agenda. This creates a healthy level of agitation during the meeting when items start running over. Assigning time keeps people focused and on-point.
6. Have a Time Keeper
Appoint someone to keep the entire group on-point and on-time. Playing bad cop is necessary for the meeting to be as productive as possible. When items run overdue, they generally need further planning or a separate discussion between specific people. Keep these items in their correct context to ensure the meeting is maximised for everyone in attendance.
7. Be Smart about Notes
Meetings bring people together. Where people come together, ideas are bred. Where ideas are bred, actions and follow-up need to be managed. Have a note taker. Ensure the notes get properly stored for easy retrieval by the entire team for future reference. Preferably store the notes in a central location so as not to take up storage space by emailing them to everyone. Ensure that new ideas are allocated appropriate time to be fleshed out or keep them in a central location for future reference.
8. Create Tasks on the Go
Assign tasks to specific individuals within the meeting. This ensures that every person knows what to action after they leave the meeting. A central task list that the entire team can access is advisable because it creates accountability. Decisions that are actioned rapidly after meetings are a good way to keep momentum going on a project.
9. Ensure Calendars are Synced
Organising meetings can be difficult and there is nothing worse than getting the time zone wrong and having to reschedule the entire thing from scratch. More and more people are using tool specific calendars for their teams and decentralised calendars like Google Calendar and Outlook invites are no longer as popular as they used to be. Confirm meetings before they happen and ensure that everyone’s time zone has been confirmed.
10. Use Scheduling Tools
Email is the least effective way to get a meeting organised. Use smart tools like Doodle that allow for easier tracking and co-ordinating of multiple times, places and people.
11. Use Alternative Tools Instead
Where possible try to avoid meetings altogether. Give teams smarter tools like centralised task managers and chat tools. A combination of these two tools is proven to be more effective than meetings in three areas: it allows people to focus around specific work that needs to get done, it gives people the ability to quickly solve problems on the go whilst working and the centralised nature of the work ensures faster completion. In my experience, teams fall into extremes of the meeting spectrum: they either don’t meet enough or they meet about the meeting they just had. Place yourself and the team on the spectrum. Choose three actions from the list of eleven above and make a plan to implement all three this week. Wash, rinse, repeat.