5 Tips for More Efficient Meetings

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men-and-women-in-a-meetingA recent study by technology company Atlassian found that employees spend 31 hours every month in unproductive meetings. We’ve all been there: the meeting that doesn’t seem necessary, the conversation that rambles severely off-course…sometimes de-railing your entire day. Here are five tips to set meetings that are more effective and worthwhile.

1. Ask yourself if it’s necessary (really, though).

Chances are you’ve probably organized a meeting at one point that you didn’t need to set up. In the midst of a decision or need for creative input, gathering multiple minds together is a common way to take next steps. To cut back on meetings that never needed to happen in the first place, challenge yourself to take next steps without setting up a meeting. Instead, reach out to one or two people directly (actually walk over to their desk) and see what they think about the issue. If that doesn’t work, step away from the issue at hand and allow yourself some time to creatively brainstorm without the context of a meeting. Write down some ideas. Finally, ask yourself if the problem cannot be solved without calling a meeting. If the answer is yes, set up the meeting – but only invite those who must be in attendance for the best possible outcome.

2. Set an agenda that works, and stick to it.

If you’ve concluded that a meeting must take place, it’s imperative that you, as the meeting organizer, set an agenda that everyone can follow. Focus on the desired outcome of the meeting; what steps and what conversations or questions will drive the group to solving for that problem (and only that problem)? Write these down, and then edit. Take the time to cut any excessive agenda items, and write the goal of the meeting clearly at the top of the agenda. Your colleagues will appreciate the clarity and focus that a successful agenda provides. Be sure to send out your agenda ahead of time so that your peers can prepare for the meeting or brainstorm prior to gathering.

3. Stop tangential conversations as soon as they start.

While a little healthy creative brainstorm is great in a meeting, pay attention to any dialogue that runs off course. Once individuals start discussing items that will not lead to a solution for the designated problem or topic, put those tangents in a “parking lot.” A parking lot should be an area on your white board, computer, or other note-taking space. Use this area for a short list of topics that come up, but aren’t essential to the meeting. That way, once the meeting is over, you’ll know which items are outstanding and be able to return to them later on if needed. Best of all, you’ll save a lot of time, but you’ll still be able to let others know their ideas are valuable by keeping track of them in a list format.

4. Keep a pulse on everyone in the meeting.

As the meeting leader, pay close attention to the participants and their energy levels. If conversation feels sluggish, or you’ve noticed that one or more individuals has “checked out,” it’s time to either wrap up the meeting or let that person leave the room to attend to their own tasks. If you spot a checked out participant, ask them if they need to leave the meeting, or if they feel underutilized in the meeting (but do so respectfully). It’s all about respecting everyone’s time, and a checked out participant isn’t necessarily the sign of someone who isn’t working – it may just be the sign of a meeting that has run off course.

5. Summarize conclusions and set next steps.

Be sure to start and end your meeting on time. Although it seems like a simple rule, it can be a tough one to follow. Show that you respect everyone’s time by starting and ending at the designated times that you’ve set. A few minutes before the meeting ends, read off a list of conclusions and next steps. To ensure productive results, assign each next step to an individual with a deadline. Ask yourself, “have we solved or set the task/problem at hand?” If so, congratulations; you’ve just had a productive meeting!

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