5 Rules to Avoid Death By a Thousand Meetings

Posted on January 15, 2015

We all have meetings. Most of us have a lot of meetings. But even though meetings seem to be one of our biggest time-sucks they are nevertheless essential.

According to a survey by Harris Interactive, a Nielsen company, planned meetings (68%) as well as spontaneous meetings (66%) are second only to email (91%) when enterprise teams are asked which their preferred means of communication are. The survey goes on to show that enterprise workers spend less then half their time on their primary duties, and the main obstacles between employees and a productive workday are wasteful meetings (59%) and excessive email (43%).

With that in mind, if we perceive meetings as one of our primary means of communication we need to make sure that we’re using them properly. Just as knowing a couple of jokes doesn’t make you a comedian, having meetings doesn’t mean you know what to do with them. On the other hand you’ve probably attended a meeting at some point where you would’ve rather endured listening to a string of bad jokes than to sit through to the end of the meeting.

Hence, having meetings is not the problem. Perhaps the problem isn’t even the number of meetings we’re having, but instead the way meetings are conducted. So what do you do to make sure that the meetings you have scheduled don’t make everyone feel as if they’re suffering death by a thousand meetings?

Here are 5 simple rules to follow to help you master meetings, so you and your meeting participants can have more productive and effective meetings.

1. “Why” – Understand the meeting purpose
First it’s important to understand why a meeting needs to take place. This might seem obvious but one of the most common negative comments from meeting participants concerning meetings is that many times they don’t know why they’re in a meeting. Understanding the “why” helps everyone channel the focus in the right direction. Don’t let your meeting participants be confused about why they’re in a meeting and uncertain about what’s expected from them at the meeting. Instead, address it explicitly and early on, already when sending out the meeting invitation.

2. “What” – Define a crystal clear meeting objective
Once the “why” has been taken care of, you need to address the “what”. A ground rule to having a productive meeting is to always have a clear understanding of what you aim to accomplish. Not many things kill productivity like walking away from a meeting with a sense of not having achieved anything. You know that you’ve lost a good hour or so, and it’s not coming back. In addition to that, consider what it’s costing you and your team in wasted time.

Therefore, let the meeting objective be clear to everyone involved. If it’s not, enable your meeting participants to let you know promptly.

3. “When” – Set a meeting time, and respect it
It’s not just about setting a meeting time and fitting it into the calendar. Knowing when to have a meeting as well as for how long, and in some cases even the frequency of a meeting, are factors that could affect the results of a meeting. Studies have shown that several businesses have found that midweek (Tuesdays through Thursdays), mid-mornings, and mid-afternoons are the best times from a productivity perspective to have a meeting.

As to the length of a meeting, it should ideally not be longer than 45 minutes, in order for meeting participants to retain optimal focus. Finally, make sure that the meeting time you schedule is properly communicated in good time and don’t diverge from the scheduled length of the meeting.

4. “How” – Set a meeting agenda
Having a meeting without a meeting agenda is like trying to go somewhere without knowing how to get there. Take the time to put together a meeting agenda. It doesn’t have to be overly intricate. Keep in mind that most meetings today don’t have a meeting agenda, so a simplified meeting agenda is better than no meeting agenda at all.

As with the meeting purpose and meeting objective, the meeting agenda and any essential meeting documentation (such as meeting minutes, reports etc.) should be distributed well in advance of a meeting. It’s imperative that meetings participants are given an adequate chance to prepare. Allow for amendments to the agenda prior to the meeting but not once the meeting has started. Should you need to address more issues, schedule a new meeting.

5. “Who” – Invite relevant meeting participants
You probably wouldn’t invite most of your relatives and friends over to come to a decision on when to pick up your kids from school, so why would you invite the majority of your co-workers to a meeting that only directly concerns a few of them?

There is a common tendency to have more meeting participants in a meeting than is needed. It’s like that bad habit (still) going around of putting a bunch of people in the Cc field when sending out emails, even though the message doesn’t really concern them. Both of these approaches are only causing confusion and frustration, as well as being a waste of time for everyone involved. As an example the late Apple CEO Steve Jobs’ point of view on this was that he hated when meetings were too big, because too many minds in a room get in the way of simplicity.

In conclusion, ensure that the meeting participants that need to attend the meeting in order for it to be productive are invited, and no others. If additional questions arise during the meeting that requires attention from others, then handle them separately in a discussion or in another meeting.

Work smarter with these 5 rules
These 5 rules are simple yet effective and if you follow them they will keep you from adding meetings to that pile of wasteful meetings. Another thing to take into account is as said the fact that we’re operating in a connected world with a demand for instant interaction. And we’re mobile. According to research by Ofcom 81% of smartphone users have their devices switched on all the time, so we expect to be able to handle our tasks on the go.

Smartphones also enable you to handle many of your daily tasks. There are numerous apps to help out with anything from expense reporting (Expensify), payments (iZettle) and time tracking (Toogl) to accounting (Freshbooks). When it comes to handling your meetings more effectively, a mobile app such as Mobilimeet takes care of that. With Mobilimeet you can bring all your meetings with you and access everything you need for those meetings at any time. It even helps you to follow the 5 mentioned rules in an easy and intuitive way.

So, embrace the fact that smartphones can help you work smarter and follow these 5 simple rules to help you run more effective meetings. It’ll make your participants feel more engaged and be more productive. Who knows, it might even lead to you having fewer meetings.

Please leave a comment and share your tips on how you make your meetings effective.

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