From the Harvard Business Review:
We surveyed 182 senior managers in a range of industries: 65% said meetings keep them from completing their own work. 71% said meetings are unproductive and inefficient. 64% said meetings come at the expense of deep thinking. 62% said meetings miss opportunities to bring the team closer together.
Few things are more frustrating than attending a meeting led by someone who doesn’t know how to run a meeting. Almost everyone hates meetings, and almost everyone argues that they are a necessary evil. Critical thinking skills can help make meetings better. A well-run meeting can be incredibly productive, but only if the person in charge has done some prep work.
First off, no meeting should last more than an hour. If your meeting goals can’t be met in that space of time, you need another approach—one that should be organized around the answers to four basic questions:
what is the point of the meeting?
will we accomplish that purpose?
why is my presence necessary?
and what is the next step?
Answering those four questions is easy. The reason we tend to resist is because we think preparation is a lot of hard work and a waste of time, but these four questions lead us into simple activities that will cause us to be better prepared. It is not a waste of time to prepare. Time gets wasted because of a lack of preparation. If your meetings typically run an hour or longer, plan to use 45 minutes. Give yourself some space. End the meeting early if you complete your agenda. The room will cheer.
Setting goals for a meeting is one of the basics of prepping. If there aren’t any clear goals, there’s no reason for a meeting. State your goals in complete sentences and make sure your goals can be realistically measured. The sentence is the basic format for ideas: there’s an actor and there’s something being done (a subject and a predicate). Is the activity effective and efficient? Writing down goals in complete sentences helps you and everyone else stay focused on the point of the meeting.
The next step, accomplishing your stated goals, will make everyone feel good. Be sure to review what has been accomplished before ending the meeting. Try to build into the meeting ways to accomplish your goals. A sense of accomplishment (even a modest one) helps everyone feel that their time has been well-spent. Having a written agenda is vital. If anyone is getting off-topic, draw their attention back to the agenda and the goals of the meeting. Off-topic remarks can open up a lot of issues you may not want to discuss. Don’t let the meeting get hijacked by someone with a different agenda.
Next, determine why it is essential for each person in the meeting (including you) to be present. Obviously, if you don’t understand your own purpose for being there, it’s highly unlikely the meeting will accomplish anything. Determining why other people must be present helps ensure that those people won’t feel they’ve been required to attend a meeting that has nothing to do with them or their current needs.
When considering The Next Step, do a little pre-planning and organizing with the group. Look at whether the step can be measured for effectiveness, think about how much time will be needed to complete the step, ask for volunteers and assign some responsibilities for achieving the next step. This helps the meeting participants feel that they know where they are going and will have the means to get there.
I’ve mentioned the need to be aware of how meeting participants are feeling about the meeting. This may appear to be a secondary consideration, but it isn’t. If a meeting is going to be an extended period of one-way communication, you don’t need a meeting—you need an email, or a memo, or a microphone and an auditorium. Long monologues are received poorly. Almost everyone on the receiving end will feel they are being treated unfairly. Meetings can be quite productive when there is proper preparation. Be sure to take the time to do it–if you do it correctly, planning only takes a few minutes.Without a plan, your meeting may easily turn into a toxic venting session that goes nowhere.