It’s a truism that business meetings are too often long, boring, and senseless. But unless you want to run your company as a dictatorship, meetings are a necessity. Some companies can suffer from “meeting overload,” however, resulting in too much talking and too little progress.
Information and responsibility in most companies are divided into departments, and balanced, smart decision-making means that representatives from these departments need to connect. Meetings are also a useful way of providing employees with a forum in which to share their input.
The solution to avoiding meeting overload is to make your meetings more efficient and streamlined, so that you accomplish your objectives and keep things moving along. Here are some tips:
- Consider who needs to be there. Think carefully about who should attend your meetings. The more people you invite, the longer the meeting will last, since each person will want to give their opinion. So keep the cast of characters limited to avoid wasting time.
- Craft your agenda in advance. Put together a draft of the meeting agenda a couple of days beforehand, and circulate it to the other attendees to obtain their input. This builds ownership of the agenda by the team. Your agenda should contain the following: the meeting objective, the questions the meeting should clarify, and what each attendee is expected to contribute and take away from the meeting. Every invitee should have high interest in each agenda item. Items that appeal to only some of the attendees belong in another meeting.
- Time is of the essence. It is crucial to tell participants exactly when the meeting will start and end, and to stick to those times. Designate someone to make sure everyone gets to the meeting on time — either that or be prepared to cancel the meeting if some people are late. Waiting around for stragglers wastes everyone’s time. If you can start without some of the attendees, ask yourself why they were invited in the first place. Don’t let the meeting run too long, or you risk losing the attention of your attendees. Your meeting should never be longer than 90 minutes — if you must have an extremely long discussion, split the meeting into two parts.
- Don’t waste paper. Meeting participants have enough to do without having to skim through multipage handouts distributed on the spot. There’s no way to absorb that much information in the context of the meeting. Limit each handout to one page, and distribute longer reports in advance.
- Assign someone to stop digressions. Enlist a person to indicate any possible agenda digression in a humorous way, such as with a bell or whistle. The meeting should stop on this signal to determine whether a digression really has occurred. At that point, a decision should be made whether to adjust the agenda or to make a note for a future meeting.
- Don’t divide people’s attention. It is difficult to absorb information at a lunch meeting. Forget about proper enjoyment of food and a few minutes of relaxation. The fact is that most of us are more productive if we’ve had a bit of a break. Lunch meetings give short shrift to both the meeting and to lunch.
- Demonstrate what you’ve accomplished. After the meeting has concluded and everyone has gone back to their desks, make sure that you send out meeting minutes along with a list of action items for everyone to accomplish.
It’s true that business meetings consume a lot of our valuable time, but if you follow the tips above, streamlining your meetings so that they’re efficient and action-oriented, you should find that meeting overload is a problem of the past.