Effective Meetings Boost Productivity

In our long running (since January 2015) article series about productivity we have been around a varied range of subjects from the strategic (goal setting) down to the downright practical (how to plan your time). Right from the outset it was envisaged that we would do articles on some of the practical topics, which are corner stones of productivity, such as ensuring you have effective meetings and delegation.

The importance of this was brought home to me again just the other day when I read an article from Lifehack.org: “Work Smart: 6 Ways to Make More Money While Working Less”. I know… catchy title, right?
Two out of those 6 ways the article hits on are precisely delegation and effective meetings. In this article we shall focus on how to ensure that meetings are more productive. Read on to find out more about how you can start to have more effective meetings.
Here are some of our top tips to ensure you have better and more effective meetings, which will help everybody become more productive and to ensure that their goals are reached.

Set Goals For the Meeting

Who hasn’t sat in a meeting for way too long, drinking bitter coffee or lukewarm tea accompanied by some dry digestives, and felt that it is leading nowhere? This is too often because there is no clear purpose to the meeting. Meetings tend to be held to “discuss something” rather than “decide a specific thing”. By signalling from the start what the purpose of the meeting is you will automatically focus everybody’s attention on achieving an outcome – rather than just agree to have a follow-up meeting or to break out of the plenary and multiply the meetings to discuss all of the component parts of the issue at hand. This is the first rule of effective meetings.
A lot of this comes down to having effective leadership (not management) skills. An effective leader sets out a clear vision and then ensures that meetings are about how to turn that vision into reality. This requires good communication skills, but also a clear idea about what obstacles need to be overcome and then be able to break this vision down into the constituent parts and ensure they get done (where it becomes management rather than leadership).
Therefore it is important to communicate clearly what needs to be achieved from the meeting both in advance and at the start of the meeting.

Structure the Meeting

In order to ensure you have effective meetings you need to have a clear agenda ready – and make sure this is shared with the other meeting participants in advance so they know exactly what will be dealt with if you want to ensure effective meetings. If the participants already have a clear idea of what will be discussed they will already subconsciously have prepared for it and ensure that all relevant information is brought to the table rather than the meeting breaking up with the promise that somebody will “look into it”.

Get the Bulk Done in Advance

Having a structured meeting with a clear agenda communicated in plenty of time prior to the meeting will also allow the attendees to get the bulk of the work done in preparation so you can ensure you will have effective meetings only dealing with decisions rather than trivia.
E.g. you could ensure that everybody has delivered their comments on a specific aspect and then just use that part of the meeting to summarise the key points made and to ensure that everybody is in agreement (if necessary). That way you don’t need 5 people to sit around and listen to one person’s views in turn because all of the views have already been collated and can be disseminated a lot faster.
This does one very important thing: it moves the discussion up from the detail (operational) to the tactical or managerial level where decisions can actually be made. Making decisions with loads of little bits of information flying around in everybody’s heads is almost impossible, but if the key points are already summarised it makes it a lot easier to make the right decisions – and do so quickly.

Keep Meetings Short

Everybody is always busy and would rather be anywhere then in the meeting room because it takes away time from their tasks or projects and means they are more likely to feel stressed – and in turn deliver poor(er) work. If everybody knows the meeting will be short they will focus on the things that need to get done and will leave feeling invigorated because decisions have been made rather than postponed. This is the hallmark of truly effective meetings.
A simple way to do this is to ensure that most meetings only deal with a very limited number of topics and why not try having them standing up. If people are standing up they are less inclined to drone on because the other attendees just wouldn’t accept it. The brilliant thing about this approach is that you don’t even need to tell people to keep it short as they instinctively know that they wouldn’t want to be standing and listening to themselves for a long amount of time. Out of subconscious courtesy we tend to stick to the facts and praying that everybody else will do the same so we can take the weight off our feet sooner.
And, finally… why don’t you consider

Getting Rid of Meetings Entirely

In another article from Lifehack.org, “Kill Meetings to Get More Done“, the author argues that the very best way of improving meetings is to avoid them completely. I am not necessarily in agreement with this, but I have dreaded many meetings in my life because I knew in advance they would be a complete waste of time.
However, he does make one very important point about trying to get things done by email, phone or (as a last resort) person-to-person. It is also worthwhile adding Instant Messaging (IM) to this as it’s becomes the new de facto standard of communication in many organisations.
Leo Babauta’s suggestion in the article is that you should try and get everything done by email first. If that can’t be accomplished then set up a quick phone call and if that still wouldn’t be enough to deal with the issue at hand set aside 5 minutes for a face-to-face meeting. In all three cases it is all about cutting out the chit chat and just focus on the issue at hand so you can get back to doing the tasks you need to get done to really free up your time and ensure you have effective meetings.

Key Lessons for Effective Meetings

Overall the key lessons for effective meetings, which can be drawn from this are as follows:

  • Have clear goals for the meeting – and communicate them!
  • Set an agenda in advance to allow attendees to prepare
  • Get the bulk of the work done in advance
  • Cut out the chit chat and focus on the issues
  • Keep your meetings short!
    In the next installment of our Productivity Series, we will deal with the art of delegation and how that can help you be both more productive, but also deliver better work.