5 Ways to Avoid 'Death by Meeting'
It may not always seem like meetings serve a purpose, but they do. When handled correctly, meetings can clarify objectives, boost morale, save time, and generate plans of action. The problem is, far too many meetings achieve the opposite. They waste time, bore everyone in the room, and suck the life out of the workday.
Here are five ways to avoid “death by meeting”:
- Set an agenda and stick to it. Sometimes it's tempting to gather your staff together just to see how things are going. Resist this temptation at all costs. The meeting agenda is your road map from point A to point B. Only schedule a meeting if you have a list of items to review and discuss. To help ensure a productive meeting, distribute the agenda (with specific times allotted to each item) to all participants beforehand.
- Start and finish on time. Meetings that start late or get frequently interrupted by late arrivals send a very bad message: Nobody's in charge. Make it clear to all participants that the meeting will take place as scheduled. Avoid the momentum-killing move of bringing a late arrival up to speed. Appoint a timekeeper (i.e., put someone in charge of keeping things moving) who’s backed by the boss. That way, people won't be insulted when they're told, "Please wrap up your report in two minutes, thank you." One more thing: People by and large tend to stay focused for about 30 minutes. After that, you're in the land of diminishing returns. If you can't cover everything on the agenda a half hour, schedule another meeting.
- Forbid smartphones and laptops. This is a no-brainer. Either you're present at the meeting or you're not. No one ever perished by being separated from their electronic devices for 30 minutes. Ask people to leave their gear at their desks. If the scheduled meeting must go for an extended period of time, let people check their messages during a brief break.
- Invite only the people who need to be there. How many meetings end up involving more personnel than necessary? Meetings are more productive when only those employees involved in the topic are invited. Others with only marginal participation can be addressed separately to save time. It's also helpful to send out a brief post-meeting email, so that everyone is kept up-to-date.
- Know what type of meeting you want to have. Not all meetings have to accomplish specific objectives. Brainstorming sessions (an exception to rule #1) may prove useful to your business. But unlike an "action meeting" — in which you address pressing and time-sensitive issues— a creative meeting can be more free-flowing (and even fun). The key here is to encourage imaginative input while still maintaining a grip on time. Suggestions: Have food and drink on hand for longer meetings. Bring props along to get people “thinking outside the box.”
Meetings don't have to be long and tedious. When you plan ahead and stay focused, you and your employees can benefit from the opportunity to exchange ideas and strategies. Afterward, people will go back to work recharged and ready to get things done.
Lee Polevoi is an award-winning business writer specializing in the challenges and opportunities facing small business. He is former Senior Writer at Vistage International, a global membership organization of CEOs.