We all know the truth, and it’s time we started admitting it. Most meetings are ineffective. Frustrated with sessions that seemed to accomplish little except functioning as insomnia remedies, I set out to perfect my meeting style – shooting for “The Meeting to End All Meetings.” I did extensive research on what makes a good meeting, and here’s what I’ve found:
Categorize your meeting type.
There are basically three types of meetings: information dissemination, assignments, and idea generation, and if your staff is prepared to participate, knowing what sort of meeting you’re conducting, they’re more likely to be engaged and productive. Prepared participants lets you dispense with background information and get right down to work. Requiring your staff to walk into the room primed to absorb information, accept or make assignments, or share their ideas creates a climate of productivity.
Only essential people should attend.
Keeping your meetings small eliminates potential distractions and uses your company’s structure more efficiently. Empower (and require) the leaders within your company to share information with the folks who report to them. You’re endorsing their leadership, and you’re making a much more efficient use of your own time.
Follow the rule of fifteen AND bring a timer.
The simple fact is that our attention spans are only good for about fifteen minutes. Rather than going to crazy lengths to push your staff beyond what they can endure, embrace the rule of fifteen and use it to limit your meeting time. Make it an absolute rule (enforced by your timer) that no one – not even you – can ramble on for longer than fifteen minutes. Even better than whole fifteen-minute chunks of solid information is breaking the meeting into five-minute segments. You may object to this point initially, thinking that there’s no way you can accomplish anything in only fifteen minutes, but you will discover that you end up accomplishing more because you’re more prepared and focused.
George Washington once said, “My observation is that whenever one person is found adequate to the discharge of a duty, it is worse executed by two persons, and scarcely done at all if three or more are employed therein.” Our founding father knew that efficiency improves when there’s one person responsible for tracking and reporting progress on a project. Even if the employee you designate as the contact person isn’t the one doing the work, then that one employee comes to the meeting prepared to offer a concise summary of what’s going on, rather than using your valuable meeting time to allow every team member to meander through their portion of a larger job.
Have an agenda (and stick with it.)
Whether you send an agenda via email before the meeting or you use a whiteboard to jot it down, having a written agenda demonstrates that you’re holding a meeting for a reason and that you value your staff’s time. Use your timer to ensure that you accomplish everything on your agenda and that you neither belabor points unnecessarily or digress to the point that you’re off topic. Modeling efficiency helps get your staff on the same page – literally and figuratively.
Ask for anonymous feedback.
I employed this tip a bit skeptically when I was working on perfecting my meeting protocol, but what I discovered – based on the recaps and responses to my meetings – was that I wasn’t being a very good listener. I realized that I needed to spend more of my meeting time listening – and writing down – the valuable insights and information shared by my staff. Anonymous feedback from your employees will absolutely help you run more effective meetings, and will help you and you staff get more out of your shared time.
I’ve learned a lot about meetings, and one of the most interesting things is that inevitably, the people inside meetings want out of them, while the people outside the meeting want in. Good meetings are powerful – especially the small ones – because they convey important information and help shape the direction of the work your company does. Running efficient, effective meetings sends your staff back out into the office as informed, empowered employees who share a clear vision, direction, and plan of attack.