Meetings are the death of work productivity.  According to various sources there are 25 million meetings per day in the United States.  That amounts to $37 billion in annual productivity lost as a result of meetings.  Just yesterday I heard another example of a senior team in a large publicly traded company holding a three-hour meeting to plan for a full day meeting.  The tyranny must end.  

Meetings to plan meetings!

Just look at the typical middle managers work week calendar.  It is more than likely filled with recurring meetings.  Weekly status update meetings, weekly team meetings, one on one meetings with each member of the team and the meeting list goes on.  To make matters worse, most meetings are scheduled for much longer than is actually needed, but we find a way to fill the time.  This begs the question, what can one do to improve work productivity?  Below are eight suggestions.  The first three are ways to skip meetings in the first place and the other five are ways to make your meetings more productive and effective.

Skipping the Meeting

Eliminate Status Update Meetings: Status update meeting are a waste of time.  If you can read it in an email or a report, then there is no reason to meet to have people give live updates.  Create a clear update cadence that allows for easy interpretation of a project or task’s status. 

Only Accept Relevant Meetings: Many meeting invitations are created based on distribution lists. Chances are you are on several distribution lists that are not well maintained.  Therefore, you probably get invited to meetings that are no longer relevant to you.  Your attendance is not necessary and the meeting could be a waste of your time.  Often people are invited to meetings because the organizer wants to be inclusive. Very few organizers tag invitations as option.  If you don’t believe that you can make a valuable contribution to a meeting or feel that you will not learn something new and important, then decline the meeting.  If your attendance is really critical the organizer will seek you out even if you decline the meeting.

2nd Guess Recurring Meetings: Recurring meetings are technologies way of wasting your time.  It is too easy to set a Microsoft Outlook meeting with a weekly occurrence.  Once set that meeting continues to show up on your calendar indefinitely and as a result the invitees show up for the meeting each week.  The beginning of the year is a great time to purge recurring meetings from your calendar.  Send out new invites or ask organizers to send new invites for meetings that are necessary.  Recurring meetings are often the biggest time wasters.

Making meetings more productive

Require Meeting Agendas: A meeting without an agenda is like a Sunday drive in the country.  While the conversation might be good there is no clear deliverable.  All effective meetings require an agenda.  Agendas hold people accountable and set time limits for meetings.  If you are the meeting organizer, send out a meeting agenda one day before the meeting.  This gives attendees an overview of what to prepare and if their attendance makes sense.  If you are an attendee at someone else’s meeting, ask them for an agenda in advance.  If they cannot send you an agenda, then you should decline the meeting.  An organized well run meeting must have a clear agenda.

Create A Meeting Cadence: Start and end each meeting the same way.  Many companies start meetings with a safety message.  That sets a tone and reiterates the importance of safety to a company’s culture.  Maybe start your meeting with a quote that you find relevant to the meeting topic.  I like to start meetings with a question and get as many participants as possible to weigh in.  Even a question as simple as, “What do we need to accomplish in the next hour, that would make this meeting a success?”  Meetings are about collaboration, not hour long speeches by the organizer. 

Don’t Waste Meeting Time Taking Attendance: Taking meeting attendance on a conference call usually wastes at least ten percent of the meeting time.  The worst way to start a conference call meeting is by asking “Who is on the line?”  That is usually followed by 10 or more people saying they are on the line.  Impossible to decipher who is actually on the call.  Reading off names is a bit more efficient, but still a waste of time.  Leverage technology to aid in the attendance portion.  If your office uses a messaging tool like Lync or Skype, have every attendee send a message confirming they are on the line.   Send a group message to the attendees and ask them to confirm their attendance by responding.  There are several ways to do this that will eliminate the timewaster of taking attendance.

Assign Roles And Responsibilities To Meeting Attendees: Assign a timekeeper in your meeting.  This person should manage the clock.  Make certain that the group stays on task and that you hold to the timing on the agenda.  Another important role is a note taker.  Meeting minutes are an important way to capture the action items and the decision that were made in a meeting.  Even in a one on one meeting, it is important to capture notes and follow up action items.

Encourage Conflict And Debate: Effective meetings include debate, conflict and collaboration.  A one-way conversation is a speech, not a meeting.  Make certain to solicit the thoughts, ideas and opinions of everyone in the meeting.  Introverts might not be given the opportunity to speak in a group that is overly vocal.  As the meeting leader make space for all people to be heard.  If conflict erupts, embrace it but keep it focused on the issues at hand and not the people.  Conflict can lead to better decisions. 

Remember you are looking for a meeting of the minds.  Meetings serve an important purpose.  The key is to make your meetings as effective as possible.  There is very little harm in cutting meetings short if everything on the agenda has been discussed.  Giving people back time on their calendar is always appreciated.  The best leaders, typically are masters at running meetings.  It takes practice, but if you plan properly and set clear goals for your meetings, you too can run more effective meetings.

Groove Management can help your organization break the meeting cycle. We offer time management and work/life balance workshops that can help address the inefficiencies that plague organizations. Reach out to learn more.