Meetings. The word has almost become synonymous with wasting time. To quote Captain Kirk, “A meeting is an event at which the minutes are kept and the hours are lost.” Call a meeting and you could almost hear the collective groan from down the hall.
As an executive or a manager, if you are calling a meeting, here are five rules to ensure that your meeting does not end up wasting time, resources and money.
1. Before you schedule a meeting, justify it.
We are under the impression that meetings are, per se, productive. What if it were the opposite? What if meetings are mostly unproductive, and advisable only under specific conditions?
Before you call a meeting, justify it. Ask yourself, "What is my intended outcome? What am I trying to accomplish? Why do I need to put people in a room together?”
If you can not articulate the need for a meeting, don’t convene it. If you can, the process of articulation will enable you to sharpen your focus of what you want the meeting to accomplish and increase the chances of the meeting achieving your goals.
2. Invite players, not spectators.
We tend to over invite people to meetings. Just as we over “cc” people to emails, we assume it’s better to over-invite to a meeting then miss someone. That way of thinking may make sense for the annual holiday party, but it doesn’t for corporate meetings.
As a kid, I remember hearing a story about a village that wanted to honor their king with a barrel of wine. The townsmen mandated that everyone bring a pitcher of wine and collectively they will fill up the barrel. Each villager, assuming that everyone else would bring wine, filled his pitcher with water. The king received the gift only to find that the wine barrel consisted entirely of water.
The more people in a meeting, the less responsibility each person has. If each person does not feel necessary, they won’t be as diligent to follow up on discussed items. They will assume that others will do it. By limiting ‘spectators’, you keep the meetings shorter, more engaging and easier to have effective follow up. In short, you get more wine.
3. Meetings should not fill allotted time, allot time to fulfill the meeting.
We tend to meet for blocks of time that fit neatly into our calendars. That is a backwards way of looking at time allocation. You don’t fit the meeting into the calendar; you use the calendar to capture the time needed for the meeting.
Meetings should go only as long as they need to accomplish the specified goal. When you schedule a meeting, ask yourself how long you would it will take to accomplish the intended outcomes. Plan the meeting for that time, even if not in blocks of hours, half hours or even tens of minutes. Schedule an 18-minute meeting if you feel that’s what you need. Should you accomplish your goals in a shorter time, adjourn earlier.
Most of the unproductive time comes when people feel like there is more time allocated than necessary. Show your colleagues you respect their time by allocating what you anticipate is necessary and then end early if the task was accomplished sooner.
4. You called it, you own it.
Whoever called the meeting, needs to be responsible to drive the agenda and keep the meeting focused and action oriented.
Many times, a meeting is called and there is a lack of clarity as to who is in charge. One person starts and then another chimes in and redirects the conversation. While everyone should be able to participate, only one person should be responsible for the overall flow of the meeting. The “owner” should begin with an agenda and take responsibility to shepherd the meeting along in an efficient manner. At the end, the owner should be the one to allocate, and record, the action items.
5. End with action steps.
Meetings are a place to talk, but talk is cheap unless it’s followed by action. At the end of every meeting, there should be an announcement of action items that emerged from the discussion.
Those actions items should be circulated to the group and then discussed at the beginning of the next meeting. Meeting participants should know what they should be doing and that there will be a time where their actions will be reviewed.
Meetings can be the most powerful tool in the success of your business. However, like any tool, you can only fully reap the benefits when you use it properly.