When you think about going to yet another meeting, do you look forward to attending or are you hoping to get a pass? Do you think of most meetings as a productive or unproductive? Are the meetings you attend a valuable use of your time or a complete waste of time?
If you prefer not attending most meetings because they are unproductive and robbing you of valuable time, you are not alone. An epidemic of too many meetings that last too long is taking its toll on productivity. “Ask any group of managers in any country in the world to list their three most time-consuming activities. Invariably, ‘meetings’ will appear among the three. I have asked this question of more than 200 groups, and in every case but three, more than three quarters of each group indicated that half their time spent in meetings is wasted” McKenzie, R.A. The Time Trap. New York: NY: McGraw Hill. Not to mention that, “unproductive meeting time translates into a $37 billion annual waste.” Harrison-Hofstra Survey from Industry Week magazine. Yet meetings are part of our reality. Research has shown that groups almost always make better decisions than individuals. So there is a strong argument for having meetings. The problem is that most meetings are not well-planned or do not have a clear purpose. We meet and brainstorm for ideas or thoughts around a project or task and then when the meeting time is over, no decision has been made because we are still discussing. Therefore, the meeting has been a waste of everyone’s time and energy. These meetings typically end with a proposal, not a decision. The proposal is simply, “I propose we have another meeting to continue discussing this matter.”
How do we ensure more productive meetings? First know the purpose of the meeting and what decision needs to be made at the conclusion. Make sure the team has clarity on the purpose and expectation and has time to prepare prior to the meeting. Many individuals will not speak up if put on the spot. Extraverts like to brainstorm out loud, thinking and talking at the same time, often monopolizing the meeting conversation. More introverted individuals like to think before they speak. By the time these individuals are ready to talk, the meeting has moved on to another topic, resulting in silence from the introvert who just might have the best idea for a project or task. The meeting facilitator should ensure that agendas are sent prior to the meeting and that every individual has an opportunity to speak throughout the meeting. I often ask, “Is there anyone who would like to add a comment that has not had an opportunity to speak yet?” It is imperative to hear from everyone in order to reach the best decisions.
Second, make sure the meeting is kept within the allotted time. If your meeting is an hour, spend 30 minutes brainstorming and listening to everyone’s input, then move into narrowing and prioritizing the options. Once that is done, the entire group has reached agreement on the items and the order (priority), and now the team can move to assigning responsibility and deadlines…making the decision. If you have a tendency to allow meetings to run late, ask someone else to keep time and notify the group after 30 minutes and then again when 5 minutes are left to reach agreement. You will find this process allows for timely and productive decision-making meetings.
Third, only invite individuals who can add value to the subject and should be in attendance. I have worked with executives who spend 60% of their time in meetings, most of them unnecessary. They attend because they are invited and feel obligated. Do not put others in that predicament. If we clearly know and understand the objective of the meeting, we can determine the best individuals to invite to help reach that goal. The ideal group decision-making size is five people. Yet most meetings exceed 10 or 15. Studies have shown that in a group of 10 or 15, only 5 will actively participate. That means the other 5 or 10 are simply wasting their time and yours. They have checked out mentally or do not add value since they are not contributing their thoughts. Even with 5, there is typically one who will not speak up unless given the opportunity. So think through the invite list and keep it to those who absolutely need to be present and will add the most value to the discussion.
Contact LeadAdvantage for additional tips on meeting effectiveness. www.leadadvatnageinc.com.