12 Proven Tips for Effective Meeting Management
MEETINGS, in essence, are meant to boost productivity and efficiency. When everyone is on the same page and aware of what should be done, even the most challenging tasks can be completed.
In reality, we find ourselves stuck at unproductive meetings, week after week.
The average executive spends 18 hours a week at meetings. Almost half of all attendees say that meetings are the number one time waster at work.
Not only can meetings be a waste of time, but if not planned efficiently, they’re actually a waste of money, too. A study of time budgeting found that a single weekly meeting of mid-level managers cost an organization $15M a year!
Interested in how much you’re spending on meetings, and how much you could be saving? Try this meeting cost calculator by Harvard Business Review.
At Scoro, we’re all about time management, and we put a lot of effort into having effective meetings. Insanely productive meetings mean that there’s less of them – last year we spent only 6,380 combined hours at meetings!
Love them or hate them, you can’t completely eliminate meetings. So it’s important to make them as useful and constructive as possible.
In the spirit of efficiency, saved time and money – here are 12 proven meeting management tips for higher productivity!
1. Have a Clear Objective
Is the meeting needed to generate new ideas, to gather information, or to make decisions? Or perhaps it is a combination of the above?
If you’re unsure what you’re trying to accomplish, you can be sure it won’t happen. The number one factor for a successful meeting is having a clear goal and a concrete agenda.
Entrepreneur and influencer Neil Patel says he refuses to have a meeting simply for the sake of having a meeting. “No purpose, no meeting.”
He starts every meeting by stating the ultimate goal for that meeting. “Meetings aren’t social gatherings. Instead, they are goal-oriented business events. I’m not against hanging out with people, but there are better times to do this than during a business meeting,” he says.
Jessica Pryce-Jones, the author of the book “Running Great Meetings & Workshops For Dummies,” was recently in a meeting with a company’s senior leadership team that lasted four hours.
“And I wasn’t sure at any point whether they were informing each other, whether they were discussing, or whether they were deciding. I wasn’t convinced that the meeting was any more strategically advanced as a result of the senior team having met than if they hadn’t met.”
Start with the goal, and you’ll finish with success.
2. Meet Outside the Office
When tired faces, low energy, and lack of ideas start to appear at meetings, it’s a sign that it’s time to take the meeting outside. An off-site session is perfect for avoiding meeting fatigue.
Take your staff to the nearby cafe, to the park or even a bar. Sometimes a change of scenery is all that’s needed for bringing energy and good ideas back to the table.
After the meeting, follow up on your team if they enjoyed the change of pace and found it constructive. If not, try something else – it’s never a complete waste of time!
3. Be Prepared
The key to successful meeting management is in the preparation. Before the meeting starts, provide all participants with an agenda.
The agenda should include:
- a list of topics to be covered
- a brief description of the meeting’s objectives
- a list of people attending the meeting
- who will address each topic
- the time and location of the meeting
- any background information participants need to know about the subject
What’s the most important thing you should do with your agenda? Follow it closely!
A Tesla employee was quoted on Quora, saying “When we met with Elon, we were prepared. Because if you weren’t, he’d let you know it. If he asked a reasonable follow-up question and you weren’t prepared with an answer, well, good luck.”
4. Invite Less People
Ask yourself ruthlessly: Do all these people really need to attend the meeting? Most of the time, a brief summary by email will work just as well.
If you can reduce a half-hour meeting’s attendee list by just two people whose presence isn’t essential, that’s an hour of productive time returned to the company.
The purpose of meetings is to make decisions, not to simply share information. It’s easy to view the meeting as a waste of time when attendees don’t feel the discussed topic is relevant to them.
Read on: Still managing your meeting history on a spreadsheet? Read why you need an Excel Alternative.
Need inspiration? Amazon’s Jeff Bezos follows the Two Pizza Rule: No meeting should have more people than can be fed with a pair of pepperoni pies. This not only allows for quicker decisions, but it also lets teams test their ideas without the interference of groupthink – the Amazon exec’s biggest pet peeve.
5. Don’t Be Late
Late arrivals can eat up 5 to 10 minutes of the meeting, or in most cases – make the meeting 10 minutes longer. Waiting up for people who are habitually late is unfair to those who show up on time.
The solution? Don’t wait for them. Starting the meeting the minute it’s scheduled to begin sends a clear message to the latecomers, and develops a reputation for promptness.
It doesn’t hurt to get creative either. Employees of TINYpulse, an employee engagement software company, rarely forget a meeting because the company starts them at an odd time. The company’s daily staff meeting, for example, starts at 8:48 am.
“It’s strange, but at 8:48, everyone in our office seems to rise simultaneously and move toward our meeting area. There’s definitely a Pavlovian aspect to the odd meeting time,” says communications manager Neal McNamara.
6. Stand up
Stand-up meetings (or simply “stand-ups”) have become popular team rituals. Employees become more engaged, more collaborative and less territorial when they participate in a project that involves standing.
Nothing conveys urgency like being on your feet during a meeting.
Professor Bob Sutton, the co-author of the management book Hard Facts, observed this as he was writing the book. He and his co-author Jeff Pfeffer would often meet at Pfeffer’s home, in a room with only one chair. With no place to sit, they covered everything fast and effectively.
That led the team to look into a study that compared the decisions made by teams who had stand-up meetings vs groups holding seated meetings. In the stand-up meetings, groups took 34% less time making decisions, with no real difference in the quality of the decision.
For logistical reasons, stand-up meetings aren’t always practical, but they’re worth considering.
7. Leave Room for Creativity
The experience and knowledge of your employees is a valuable resource. A source too important to be left untapped.
Short and constructive meetings are the ideal, but not when they are stripped down from idea generation and discussion. A successful meeting should result in creativity and energy. This happens when people are actively participating, not just passively attending.
Brainstorming sessions are common, but too often ineffective practice. It’s not the actual idea generation that matters, but following through with the ideas.
Read on: 31 Creative Project Management Tools
Every Thursday, food manufacturer Plum Organics gets out coloring books and holds a creative-thinking meeting where staff members color, talk, and decompress. Their innovation director Jen Brush says the hour has been extremely important to the company’s new product development.
“It’s proven that coloring during a meeting helps promote active listening, and is more beneficial than multitasking on something like email,” she says.
By taking a more creative approach, these sessions can be productive and inspiring at the same time.
8. Don’t Lose Focus
For some reason, at every meeting, there seems to be that one person who tends to go off telling stories not connected to the discussed topic in any way. And while storytelling is not generally bad (quite the opposite, to be exact!), an off-topic talk at a meeting can really drag the session.
The hardest task to accomplish leading a group of people is to get them to focus. Whether it’s the organizer or any of the participants, someone should always take the responsibility of guiding the meeting back to the assigned topics and bringing back the focus.
Loss of focus can also happen when discussing something that’s on the agenda. With any project, there is always the “scope creep” factor. Scope creep – also known as feature creep, focus creep, creeping functionality and kitchen-sink syndrome – can sneak up, morph and destroy any meeting.
Scope creep refers to constant uncontrollable changes in a meeting’s scope. This can occur when the outcome of a project is not properly defined, documented, or controlled – and is considered harmful for the success of a project.
Brivo, a security software provider, keeps meetings on point with its “No Rehash” rule. Employees signal to others that a topic has already been addressed by raising the “No Rehash” Ping-Pong paddle.
“I started noticing that we kept making many of the same decisions over and over again,” says president and CEO Steve Van Till. “It’s a visual reminder, but more importantly, it empowers everyone in the company to call out counterproductive rehashing whenever and wherever they see it. The big time savings is that no one has to justify invoking the rule itself, and the meeting can proceed with earlier decisions intact.”
When a meeting has a clear focus, it’s much easier to set concrete action steps and follow up. If you got to the end of the meeting without having actionable next steps, the meeting should be considered a wasted time.
9. Stop Multitasking
Multitasking is a testament to our modern, connected life. But it is taking its toll. A study shows it makes us less effective, increases stress, and costs the global economy an estimated $450 billion every year.
More frighteningly, Harvard Business Review reports that multitasking leads to a 40% drop in productivity and a loss of 10 IQ points… equivalent to pulling an all-nighter.
Nowhere is the problem more apparent than in the meeting rooms where email, texts, and web browsing can have a significant impact on an organization’s bottom line.
How to prevent participants from multitasking at meetings?
- Assign roles for the meeting. Who will facilitate? Who will take minutes? Who will take notes? When each person is assigned a job, meetings are more focused and productive.
- Provide a timed agenda. Everyone’s time is valuable, so each person needs to focus on the assigned topics and problems. The timed agenda can also discourage sidebar conversations, or working on problems that the group isn’t prepared to address.
- Have a phone/computer parking lot. And encourage people to use it. It is estimated that employees who use smartphones and computers are distracted on average after every 10 minutes. Unless the computer is absolutely necessary for the meeting, turn it off.
During meetings at Keller-Williams Realty, anyone whose phone rings must make a donation to KW Cares, the company’s charitable foundation. Spokesman Darryl Frost says the policy cuts down on interruptions during meetings. “When it happens, it supports our corporate nonprofit,” he says. “It’s a win-win.”
10. Keep Your Meetings Short
It’s very likely that 30 minutes into the meeting, your team’s attention is not a sharp as at the beginning. It’s not that they are bored or easily distracted – it’s the simple fact that there is a lot of information to process. The longer the meeting, the more effort it will take to keep up the energy and discussion.
Having short meetings is an essential component to improving your team’s efficiency. An agenda tends to expand to whatever time limit is set for a particular meeting, so feel free to give your meetings a “hard stop” whenever it feels right.
52 minutes is generally the longest time workers can remain truly engaged. Do not schedule any meeting to last longer than an hour. People appreciate it when you understand that their time is valuable.
At O3 World, a digital agency, the conference room is hooked up to a technology the company created called Roombot. The app reads everyone’s Google Calendar and warns meeting participants when it’s time to wrap up. Roombot also controls the lighting in the room, dimming the bulbs in the final minutes of the meeting.
“Roombot creates more urgency and structure to the team’s calendars,” says O3 World’s CEO Keith Scandone. “Instead of having a line of people waiting outside the conference room, this is a fun way to remind people to wrap up their meeting and get ready for the next group of people to occupy the space.”
11. Don’t Forget the Q&A
All managers claim to have an open-door policy. As good as it may make the manager look, practice shows that the vast majority of attendees aren’t taking advantage of it. It’s up to the manager to actually engage employees. And meetings are an excellent place for practising the skill.
The Q&A session is often pushed to the end of a meeting, leaving just a couple of minutes for it. However, this segment is just as important as the rest of the meeting. When a concrete action plan is set up at the meeting, but follow-up questions are left unanswered, the result can spell disaster. It is ineffective the least.
To ensure more meaningful engagement, consider extending Q&A session to match the length of the meeting. You might even consider switching up the overall format, with a short meeting intro followed by a longer Q&A. Depending on the meeting type, this could create a virtuous cycle, and help with building an enthusiastic team.
Another tip is collecting the questions about the topic in advance. This can help on several levels: The manager can plan their talk more effectively, and the team will have the time to consider ideas instead of scrambling to come up with questions at the end of a meeting.
12. Follow Up
The art of follow up is a vital professional habit, and it also matters in the context of meetings.
It’s quite common for people to come away from the same meeting with very different interpretations of what went on. Document the responsibilities given, tasks delegated, and any assigned deadlines, and send out the meeting notes on the day of the meeting. That way, everyone will be on the same page.
Follow-ups should never be interpreted as micromanagement. It is a natural and necessary part of project leadership. If you want anything to happen, you must follow up, follow up, and follow up.
The key to successful meetings lies in communication. Especially if you’re experimenting with new formats. Ask your employees for feedback, be open to suggestions, and base your conclusions on what they think, not how you personally feel. If your team feels engaged and effective, you’re surely on the right track.
Three questions to ask yourself, before scheduling your next meeting:
- Is the meeting necessary?
- Who really needs to be there?
- What will be the agenda?
“You will never see eye-to-eye if you never meet face-to-face.” -Warren Buffett