Today, American professionals will collectively attend about 11 million meetings, as estimated by the Harvard Business School’s Nancy Koehn. According to a study by software developer Atlassian, the average employee spends 31 hours a month in meetings. If you’re in the C-suite, you spend roughly 40% of each work day on conference calls and around the table with cohorts discussing the issues at hand.
Not only is there a monetary cost to these frequent sit-downs (just imagine the dollar value of each attendee’s time!), there is the inevitable drain on productivity as we talk about getting something done, rather than actually getting something done. While you may be tempted to cut the word “meeting” from your vocabulary, remember that there is value to these team pow-wows. The key isn’t to eliminate meetings, it’s ensuring that you meet only when necessary and you make those meetings meaningful.
Is this meeting-worthy?
If you can accomplish a task or effectively communicate something with your team via email or a phone call, don’t call a meeting. If, however, the topic at hand would benefit from an open dialogue or requires approval or input, schedule a meeting. There’s also value in face-to-face meetings to build connections between team members.
State a clear purpose and agenda.
Everyone attending the meeting should have a clear idea of why you’re meeting. Keep conversation limited to the topics stated. If your team is meeting to discuss plans for the marketing campaign around your new product launch, getting sidetracked with details about an upcoming trade event focused on a legacy product is not productive.
Be selective with your invite list.
You want to ensure that your team is maximizing their work time with productive tasks. When you send out meeting invites, only include individuals who will be impacted by the topics at hand or who have information pertinent to the stated agenda. There may only be three marketing team members working on your product launch. A discussion on that topic doesn’t require a full departmental meeting. Likewise, when you receive meeting invites, confirm that you have a direct role in the topic to be discussed.
Schedule a start and stop time. Then stick with it.
We’re all busy. When we carve out a block of time on our calendars for a meeting, it’s not unusual to see it bookended by other meetings or specific tasks with deadlines attached to them. Be respectful of other people’s time. When you’re setting your agenda, create a realistic time budget. Can you accomplish all you need to in half an hour? Great! Say so. Book in a little wiggle room – an extra five to ten minutes – and communicate that start and end time with your meeting invites. When your scheduled meeting end approaches, give participants a five-minute warning that your time is almost up. If there’s more to ground to cover, table the discussion for a follow-up meeting.
Before you close the book on your meeting, take a moment to summarize the key discussion points. Don’t leave the room, virtual or otherwise, without offering a clear plan of next steps. Include any pertinent deadlines and individual responsibilities. If necessary, also include preliminary plans for any follow-up meetings or check-ins. When you return to your desk, type up those notes and send them out to all participants.
Focus on the meeting, not the tech.
In today’s multitasking, tech laden world, it’s easy to check email, respond to a text and scroll through your Twitter feed while someone else is at the head of the room talking. If you’ve clearly stated your agenda and invited only pertinent staff, the meeting should be all hands on deck with full focus. Attendees should plan on keeping the laptop closed and phone down.