Who doesn’t want productive meetings? There’s no law that says meetings have to be boring and time-consuming. Yet, the business environment is littered with plenty of those. Many meetings take place simply because someone “wanted” to have one, or because “we always have them.”
When meetings lack purpose, agendas, active participation, and any follow-up strategy, they achieve nothing for anyone. If this describes meetings in your workplace, here are five tips for turning things around and ensuring that your team actively takes part and walks away ready to move forward:
1. Insist on a goal for every meeting, and make sure the right people attend.
Too often, meetings occur with no clear objective and employees are obliged to attend, during which they serve no useful purpose. That’s why “planning a productive meeting is not only about knowing what you want to cover but also, and more importantly, what do you want to get from it,” Forbes notes. “Clear, detailed and relevant agendas are a must!”
Prior to a meeting, draft a working agenda and have it distributed beforehand to all participants. Encourage attendees to review the agenda, add notes of their own, and come prepared to be actively involved in conversations.
Just as importantly, if an employee’s job responsibilities aren’t relevant to the agenda, leave them out. You’ll get more accomplished with the right people in the room.
2. Adopt a “no devices” rule, with no exceptions.
There may not be any quantifiable data on this, but employees who set aside their mobile devices during a meeting actually make it through unscathed.
On a more serious note, it’s clear to everyone that keeping such devices on hand in a meeting can prove enormously distracting for all involved. If you haven’t done so already, hold your next meeting with an ironclad “no devices” rule and see what happens.
In the same respect, if you as meeting leader are making use of video conferencing or other communications technology as part of the meeting, have the system tested ahead of time. Nothing kills the interest of participants more than sitting around while attempts are made to fix a technical glitch.
3. Stick to the meeting agenda and closely moderate the discussion.
Some people like to talk at great length, while others can’t be persuaded to say a thing. Most of us fall in-between but whatever the case, the meeting moderator should pay close attention and keep the conversation on track. (That’s also where agenda bullet-point items are helpful.)
Make clear that the time allotted for the entire meeting is no more than 30 minutes. Which means discussions must be appropriate and limited. Don’t hesitate to tell someone, “That’s a very good point, but we’ll need to take it up further at the next meeting” (or off-line).
Do your best not to let any one individual (including yourself!) dominate the conversation. As AZ Big Media notes, “less-outspoken team members … often have innovative ideas but might not be inclined to jump into discussions without prompting.” Also, be ready to “ask individual participants directly for their input.”
4. Start and end on time.
One big complaint about meetings is that they frequently start late (after someone straggles in) and never seem to end. The most productive meetings occur when they begin at the allotted time and, regardless of where participants are with an agenda, end at the prescribed time. This demonstrates efficiency on the part of the moderator, as well as respect for everyone’s busy schedules. You’ll get a lot more buy-in from employees if they know a 30-minute meeting means no more than 30 minutes.
5. Assign action items and follow-up with a summary.
The best meetings end with team members being given specific assignments and/or action items to complete. In this way, decisions made during the meeting are translated into tangible progress towards some larger goal. And people understand that, going in, they’d better pay attention to what’s going on.
Finally, take it upon yourself or ask another attendee to draw up a brief summary of what took place in the meeting. This can take the form of an email with a handful of bullet points and/or additional thoughts from the moderator or others involved. Whatever the case, the summary gives people something to refer to afterwards.
Meetings may never be “fun” in the common sense of the word. But, handled effectively, they can be productive, energizing, and a way for people to bond closely with their co-workers.