Meetings are not immune to the latest trends; for example, some meeting organizers provide entertainment (icebreaker), encourage walking meetings, and set their meeting duration in seconds. These are all trends, so rather than focusing on trends, let’s get to the core of what really matters. What are the core ingredients for a productive meeting:
1. Set A Clear Agenda
For most people, this is an obvious one, but fuzzy agendas are still widespread. When setting meeting agenda(s), always think of the desired outcome. For example, avoid agendas like “Discuss Marketing Budget for Q1”, because your desired outcome is not to “discuss” – the discussion is a process. Your desired outcome is to have a marketing budget for Q1, so a more appropriate agenda is “Set Marketing Budget for Q1”.
2. Scheduling Early In The Day
Unless you are scheduling an open and relaxed meeting, you should typically avoid scheduling meetings after 3 pm. Especially if you are scheduling brainstorming or creative sessions. For most people, their highest cognitive capacity is in the morning. However, be mindful that this is also the most productive time, so your meetings have to be relevant and necessary.
3. Invite The Right People
Not everyone has to be “in the loop”. A lot of organizations invite everyone to the meeting, because when decisions are made everyone should be aware of them. Sounds great in theory, but the result is a meeting where people are checking their phones, tablets etc. If your 1-hour meeting has 5 agenda items, and only one is relevant to them, should they pretend to be interested in the other 4? Make sure all, if not most agenda items, are relevant to your attendees.
4. Manage The Meeting
It is very easy to derail a meeting because most people come into a meeting with their interests and goals in mind, so they may consciously or sub-consciously take your meeting in a new direction. Also, you are dealing with different personalities – some attendees are vocal and engaged, and some are passive. Managing a meeting is work, a lot of work. In fact, running a meeting is like conducting an orchestra. Conductors set the tempo, listen critically, and control the pace of the music. You have to do the same – listen carefully, pay attention to body language, and control the direction of the meeting.
5. Follow Up
Meeting minutes (notes) and action items are essential, because people may come away from a meeting with different interpretations. Also, unresolved items should be assigned right away before everyone gets back into their routine.
There is a reason why we still use meetings, for the most part, they achieve their objective. However, as is the case with most processes, people can make or break the process. In summary, calling a meeting a productivity killer is an easy way to avoid the real issue (poorly planned and managed meeting), because well planned and well-executed meetings are valuable and productive.
Related: Why everyone should think about Risks and Risk Management