If you ask anyone who has spent any time in the working world what they hate most, there’s a good chance the majority of them would emphatically answer, “Meetings!”
But that’s not entirely fair to meetings. After all, at their best they’re where plans and deals get made on everything from business strategy to product development to branding a business. They also allow managers to get face time with their direct reports so they can better determine the state of affairs in the office.
There’s a contradiction here: Team meetings serve a lot of important purposes, and yet most of them are a total waste of time. The way out of this dilemma is simple – hold better meetings. Productivity, especially in a startup, is what will separate your company from the pack. If you follow these five tips, your meetings will be a productivity enhancer rather than a threat to your team’s ability to get things done (and its overall sanity).
1. Determine if the meeting could be an email or instant message
The first thing you should do when the meeting bug bites you is stop and ask yourself if you really need to have everyone leave their desks and meet in a single room. Try to summarize what you have to talk about in a few sentences. If it’s possible to do so, send an email or instant message the relevant people instead. This will allow your team to stay on task while giving them the opportunity to answer when they have a free moment.
TechCrunch suggested you do this in favor of the all-too-common “status meeting.” These typically involve rounding the team up and going around the room asking everyone to share their progress. The problem is that most of the status updates only really matter to a few people in the room. Forget these meetings – your team will thank you for the extra hour.
2. Establish ownership of the meeting
Whether it’s you or one of your managers, someone needs to step up and claim responsibility for all of the meeting’s functions. That means setting up an agenda, inviting the right people and sending follow-up emails to reiterate the key points brought up in the discussion. If no one “owns” the meeting, then it’s likely to devolve into a free-for-all.
3. Have a clear agenda
A meeting without an agenda usually ends up turning into a social event with little payoff. If you’re going to hold a meeting, prepare an agenda in advance with items like:
- Who is leading the meeting?
- What should every participant bring to the meeting?
- What time will the meeting end? (Hard time constraints keep everyone focused.)
- What are the goals of the meeting? (Inc. suggested having no more than two goals for each meeting.)
Once you’ve established your agenda, send it out to the meeting’s participants in advance so everyone knows exactly what he or she needs to be a contributor.
4. Only invite the people who absolutely have to be there
It might be tempting to think that the more people you have in the meeting, the more likely you are to get great ideas from a “meeting of the minds.” But as Entrepreneur pointed out, the more people you bring into a meeting, the longer it will be and the less likely it is that something actionable will come of it.
If your meeting has a clear purpose, you should only invite the employees closest to the issue at hand. These should be the people directly responsible for the outcomes and who have a vested stake in what is being discussed. The attendees can then update the rest of their teams through email if necessary.
5. Every meeting should produce clear action items
No one should ever walk out of a meeting wondering what the next steps are. Remember: your meeting is supposed to breed action. If people leave a meeting not knowing what to do next, then it was a waste.
In addition to clearly laying out what needs to get done, you should take a page out of Apple’s book and assign a “Directly Responsible Individual” for everything that gets decided upon. Fortune Magazine explained that by assigned a DRI to every action item, Apple creates a culture of accountability. If the action steps laid out in the meeting aren’t accomplished, it’s easy to see who dropped the ball.
Meetings don’t have to be time wasters or productivity killers. With a little foresight and planning, you can make your meetings useful for everyone involved while cutting down on needless distractions that hamper your team’s ability to get things done.
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