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By: Diane C. Decker, Quality Transitions
We’ve all been in meetings that are productive, useful, and just the right amount of time. We have also all been in meetings that are, well, the opposite of those things. While meetings obviously help us get work done, they aren’t always efficient – it’s been estimated that 70% of the time spent in meetings is wasted. Meetings are here to stay – so it makes sense to use these five practical and easy strategies for meeting participants and leaders to increase meeting productivity.
1. Prepare, Implement, and Follow-up
Oftentimes, people devote the five minutes before a meeting to prepare by skimming the agenda or jotting down a few notes. This limited focus – rather than doing the work necessary before and after the meeting – can result in wasted time for everyone in the meeting.
Prepare. Before the meeting, determine its purpose, outputs, and participants. From the purpose, create a detailed timed agenda and send it with pre-work. Providing pre-work increases the quality and creativity of the meeting’s output because more thought has gone into it. Anticipate and plan for issues that may arise during the meeting.
Implement. At the start of the meeting confirm who will lead the group through the agenda and who will take notes. These roles can be rotated, to help build skills and ownership in the meeting. During the meeting, keep the agenda in front of people. Start the meeting with a review of any decisions and follow-up from the previous meeting. Use a set format for meeting notes. Avoid lengthy notes by documenting: 1) key decisions made 2) next steps and those responsible for implementation 3) information to be shared beyond the meeting and 4) pre-work for the next meeting.
Follow Up. Before leaving, evaluate the meeting and confirm decisions that were made, next steps, and owners of each of the action items. For groups with meeting guidelines, discuss which guideline was strong and which one needs to be improved. If you don’t have guidelines, then share what went well and what needs to be improved in future meetings.
After the meeting, distribute the notes for review. Everyone prepares for the next meeting and those with assigned tasks complete them.
2. Create a Realistic Agenda
Putting together an agenda is like cooking-we need to have the right ingredients and add the proper amounts in the correct order. From the meeting purpose, identify specific agenda items and put them in a logical order. Determine who owns each agenda item, which includes leading the discussion, and make sure they know what is expected. Finally, determine the amount of time for each item, working with the discussion leaders.
3. Stay on Track
For regularly scheduled meetings, establish meeting guidelines and keep them within view. The guidelines are a code of conduct developed by the group. Each person agrees to follow the guidelines, and say something when they aren’t being met. Example guidelines include:
Focus on moving forward, rather than overworking an issue
If you have a concern with a decision, say so in the meeting with everyone present
Strive for balanced participation
Another tool for staying on track is the use of a “parking lot” or “issues list.” Whenever anyone brings up an idea or issue that is not on the agenda, it is written in a place that everyone can see. At the end of the meeting, it is determined who will own follow-up on each item. Some items may no longer be relevant by the end of the meeting while others become agenda items for a future meeting.
4. Shorten Meeting Time
The use of the huddle format can shorten meetings. No one sits during these 5-20 minute meetings, which increases the sense of urgency and productivity. Huddles are ideal for information sharing and less complex decision making.
A common cause of wasted time is starting meetings late. Recently I attended a meeting that started more than 15 minutes late primarily because the meeting leader rushed in late and disorganized. She then decided to wait “a few more minutes” for others. If you are the meeting leader, whenever possible start a meeting on time even when there are people missing. Doing so motivates latecomers to come on time in the future so not to miss any part of the meeting.
5. Next Steps
If you are motivated to improve a meeting you regularly lead, send this blog to the meeting participants and suggest you take 10-15 minutes at the next meeting to agree on one step you will take as a group to cut the amount of time wasted in future meetings. If you are not the leader, send the blog to that person and express your interest in helping to improve the meetings further. For tips to address the unique challenges of virtual meetings: Four Ways to Vitalize Your Virtual Team
Learn more about Diane Decker on her ACN Member Profile and her website.
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