How much time do you spend in meetings each week? Are they unproductive? Are there people attending who do not need to be there? Are they too long? Are they unorganized and run inefficiently?
According to the Harvard Business Review On-Point, Winter 2018, corporate executives spend an average of 23 hours per week in meetings vs. 10 hours in the 1980s. 71% of these people agree meetings are unorganized, inefficient and keep them from getting work done. The rationale for all this wasted time is to get “buy-in” from the team. The problem is there is no metric or data that proves this effort helps the bottom line.
I have always been a minimal meeting kind of guy. I prefer to call or attend few meetings, and when I do, I keep them as short as possible. I only invite vital people that really need to attend. I think I was jaded when I worked for Procter & Gamble right out of college and spent at least 50% of each week in meetings – most of which had at least ten attendees and most of which were a total waste of time. We used to have meetings to plan the next meeting. We had to invite anyone and everyone from every corner of the company just so no one felt left out.
When I finally started my own business, I went the other direction, having almost no meetings. One exception was client meetings where we discussed their specific needs so I could fulfill their order.
Don’t get me wrong; properly run meetings can be very effective and useful. Meetings with prospects to discuss potential future business are an essential part of the sales process. Meetings with clients to address issues and build relationships are also vital to success. But internal meetings can easily get out of hand if not managed properly and there is a good chance most are a waste of time and resources.
If you must have a meeting, make sure you go into it with a specific agenda, written down so everyone can see it. Do not stray from that agenda. Establish a firm ending time and make sure you stick to it. If other topics come up during the meeting, note them and address them once the main agenda is completed. Make it a rule that you cannot bring up a problem in a meeting without having first thought about a proposed solution. If a problem pops up that was not considered prior to the meeting, assign a person or team to address that problem at a later time and come back with a proposed solution. Assign follow-up tasks to specific people and then be sure to make them report on progress either at the next meeting or to you personally at a future scheduled time.
Ban cell phones from the meetings. Having people turn them upside down on the table, or keep in their pocket is not a good solution. The phones need to stay out of the room, or be completely powered down. “Why, that’s heresy in today’s world,” you say? This is a topic for another article, but in simple terms, the presence of a cell phone serves no purpose other than to distract. Even if someone doesn’t answer a text or phone call, they are distracted when the message comes in. Just taking the time to turn off the phone turns attention away from the topic at hand.
Allowing laptops active in meetings is also a distraction and not recommended. Unless the computer is necessary for the topic discussed, it is a distraction for the same reason cell phones are. People will do other things on their laptop while appearing to be paying attention. The meeting will lose focus. If you keep the meetings short and to the point, there is no need for anyone to have their cell phone or laptop for fear of missing some important message.
To keep attendees awake and focused, do not go more than 50 minutes without a break and try to make them fun. Joking around and light conversation will keep people in the game – especially if the topic is boring.