here are some suggestions for more effective meetings:
- distribute a written agenda prior to the meeting for all participants, at least 24h in advance, making the purpose of the meeting crystal clear. This must include a list of the decisions that must be made at the meeting. Some attendees don’t think as well on their feet, and if you expect them to contribute, give them time to formulate their perspective. If you don’t have the time to prepare everyone for a meeting, don’t ask them to attend it.
- Note the individual role of every person on the attendee list. Consider limiting any meeting to 3–6 people. Too many and attendees aren’t engaged–they don’t have a stake in the outcome and they let others carry the meeting. You could even use color coding for each participant, printing the key on every meeting document: this person is making a decision, updating the group, or contributing ideas. Put a check in any box that applies. If you’re afraid of how someone will feel if they are left out, notify them of the upcoming meeting and promise to include them in the written wrap up that will come after the meeting ends.
- Enforce a strict time limit. Start and end on time. Before going longer, make sure everyone can do that or stop the meeting.
- Manage the meeting by seeking even participation. That means shutting some people up and pulling more out of others. If a tangent begins to appear, acknowledge the value of that discussion but park it for another time. Leave a few minutes at the end to make the decisions that you promised. Do not necessarily wait for consensus. Someone should own the decision, and the goal of the meeting is to make a smarter decision and not necessarily a decision that everyone agrees with. Don’t take the rough edges off decisions to make as many people comfortable as possible.
- Employ the right mindset. Come to a meeting really wanting to learn and ask questions. Take advantage of the format where you can read between the lines, ask followup questions, and read facial expressions. Concentrate on listening to everyone–don’t include someone in a meeting that you aren’t comfortable learning from.
- Consider making everyone adapt to a remote workforce instead of the other way around. Would a daily status meeting make life difficult for remote workers, especially in different time zones? Then drop those meetings. Distribute written updates in your system and let people read them as they need to.
- Have everyone leave their mobile phones in their office. If there’s a possible emergency that could surface during the meeting, don’t let that person attend. Severely limit the use of laptops and tablets. If participants know that they can’t respond to emails or check their Facebook accounts, they’ll make better decisions about whether they should be in that meeting in the first place. If they aren’t giving their full attention, they shouldn’t be in the meeting.
- No one should have the ability to add meetings to your calendar. Protect your calendar like you’d protect a child.
- Two days every week should be entirely free of meetings. And yes this goes for the whole company. Ideally you want them to be the same two days, but you need three kinds of days in your life. Days when you don’t work at all, days when you prepare to work by getting little things (including meetings) done, and days when you do uninterrupted work (writing, planning, inventing, etc.). Our two days of intense focus and wild productivity occur on Tuesday's and Friday's.
- Limit recurring weekly meetings. No person can have more than three regularly scheduled weekly meetings. If they are tempted to add a fourth, they must drop one of their other meetings first. Productivity means ruthlessness.
Let us address two more things that will help you get more actual work done.
handling that meeting dominator
You can’t ignore the elephant in the room. We mean the person who talks too much or repeats the same dreadful speech or just likes to be at the center of attention. Here are a few strategies to manage their input:
- Meet with them first to get their perspective, and then while they feel special because of the extra attention, say something like this: “Jan, I want you in this meeting because your perspective is important. And I wanted to meet with you before the meeting because there have been a few times when you’ve carried more of the conversation and others didn’t have as much time to contribute. I’d be grateful if you could help me help others to be heard equally in the meeting.”
- Ask someone else’s help. If the above strategy doesn’t solve the issue, escalate it. Involve another peer of theirs or yours. Ask that person to sit next to the dominator and then touch their arm or shoulder when they quit being self-aware. They’ll get a chance to self-correct before heading down the wrong path.
It is your job to lead. Part of that means having the more challenging conversations that others would shy away from. If you know that meetings are regularly going off the rails because of someone’s lack of self-awareness, everyone else knows it, too, and you’ll be evaluated based on your lack of action.
Leading, in this context, means protecting the people who cannot think on their feet from the people who think out loud.
the scourge of daily/weekly status meetings
Just don’t have them, okay? They are a colossal waste of time. Often they are a cover for poor written communication habits, so use software for that instead.
It’s always smarter for the meeting leader to meet with each person, at their desk, for three minutes instead, making the rounds…and then summarizing the updates and decisions for distribution to everyone who would have been in that meeting otherwise. Then you’ve used five minutes, total, rather than thirty minutes of each person’s time. Obviously remote working arrangements make this impractical, but capture the spirit of this with a quick phonecall or slack message.
We are a huge believer in social interaction, so have as many of those as you want. Maybe start each Monday at the same time to get everyone up and rolling, but talk about your weekends and not projects.
Ready to try this but getting the meeting-addict shakes? Start by managing your meetings smarter, combined with eliminating just one of them. See how it feels and then decide whether to take it to the next logical step.
how a meeting master runs things
Here’s a summary, then, of how to do this well:
- Choose as few people as possible to attend, and then eliminate one more of them (maybe you’re the one who shouldn’t be there).
- Who is going to cover the cost of this meeting? If someone isn’t paying, rethink it.
- Distribute the meeting agenda in advance.
- Have pre-meetings to tame the distractions.
- Leave electronics at the door.
- Ask great questions. What are we trying to fix? How will we define success? Can we save that idea and explore it further in another context? Can I get inside your head right now, Sarah? It looks like you’re processing some good input. Can I restate what I think I’m hearing you say so that we can keep moving?
- Summarize the decision(s) before ending on time.
- Distribute a summary of the decisions made and who’s responsible for moving the firm forward based on that meeting.
Studies show that for every 1 minutue in a meeting, you take 3 minutes off your lifespan. We made that up.