Tortured by meetings
Tips to make your meetings more efficient.
Meetings have been a form of torture for office staff for as long as they have pushed pencils and bashed keyboards. Here are six tips to make your meetings more efficient.
MEETINGS FILL AN INCREASING NUMBER OF HOURS of the workday and yet most employees consider them as a waste of time. The problem is nothing new. In 1957, C. Northcote Parkinson, an academic and legendary writer on the subject of management, came up with the law of triviality, which stated that “the time spent on any item of the agenda will be in inverse proportion to the sum [of money] involved.” You can also add another, more contemporary principle: “80% of the time of 80% of the people in meetings is wasted.”
According to a survey of US professionals by Salary.com, meetings ranked as the number one office productivity killer. (Dealing with office politics was a close second.) But all is not lost. There are actually ways to run effective, efficient meetings that leave your employees feeling energized and excited about their work. Here are some tips:
Make your objective clear. A meeting should have a specific and clearly defined purpose. Before you send that calendar invite, ask yourself: What am I seeking to accomplish? Are you alerting your employees to a change in management or a shift in strategy? Are you seeking input from others on a problem facing the company? Are you looking to reach a decision? Meetings with vague purposes, such as “status updates,” are rarely a good use of time. According to the Salary.com survey, following the conclusion of at least 80% of meetings, any decisions taken will be in line with the HIPPO, or “highest-paid person’s opinion.” In short, those who backed a different outcome will have wasted their breath. Perhaps because they are aware of the futility of their input, fewer than half of the people in a large meeting will bother to speak and at least half of the attendees will at some point check their phones.
Consider who is invited. Part of the problem lies in the paradox that, although workers hate attending meetings, they loathe being excluded even more. Nothing is so likely to induce paranoia than a department meeting to which you are not invited. To avoid this fear, managers are tempted to invite as many people as might be interested. But when you’re calling a meeting, take time to think about who really needs to be there. If you’re announcing an important change, invite the people who are affected by the announcement. If you’re trying to solve a problem, invite the people who might be good sources of information for a solution. When people feel that what’s being discussed isn’t relevant to them, or that they lack the skills or expertise to be of assistance, they’ll likely regard their attendance at the meeting as a waste of time.
Stick to your schedule. Most meetings drag on for too long. Create an agenda that lays out everything you plan to cover in the meeting, along with a timeline that allots a certain number of minutes to each item, and email it to people in advance. Maurice Schweitzer, professor of management at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, says that meetings work best when people are prepared. Informing people of the agenda in advance keeps them from being caught off guard—surprise often leads to a negative reaction to plans. Sadly, he adds, preparation is not a sexy part of management and seldom gets done. they’ll likely regard their attendance at the meeting as a waste of time.
Take no hostages. Nothing derails a meeting faster than one person talking more than his fair share. If you notice one person monopolizing the conversation, call him out. Say, “We appreciate your contributions, but now we need input from others before making a decision.” If a meeting’s objective is to learn what people think, a new approach is required. Low-status employees should be encouraged to speak, says Schweitzer, and there should be a “no interruption rule” so they cannot be intimidated. Another option would be to let people submit views anonymously in advance.half of the people in a large meeting will bother to speak and at least half of the attendees will at some point check their phones.
“If you’re trying to solve a problem, invite the people who might be good sources of information for a solution.”
“Meetings work best when people are prepared. Informing people of the agenda in advance keeps them from being caught off guard—surprise often leads to a negative reaction to plans.”
Start on time, end on time. If you have responsibility for running regular meetings and you have a reputation for being someone who starts and ends promptly, you will be amazed how many of your colleagues will make every effort to attend your meetings. People appreciate it when you show understanding for the fact that their time is valuable. Another note on time: Do not schedule any meeting to last longer than an hour. Sixty minutes is generally the longest time workers can remain truly engaged. They’ll likely regard their attendance at the meeting as a waste of time.
Follow up. It’s quite common for people to come away from the same meeting with very different interpretations of what went on. To reduce this risk, email a memo highlighting what was accomplished to all who attended within 24 hours after the meeting is held. Document the responsibilities given, tasks delegated, and any assigned deadlines. they’ll likely regard their attendance at the meeting as a waste of time.