I have a friend who told me he regularly has to sit through two-hour long weekly team meetings. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry with him. Such a massive investment in time and money. Put your typical team of 10 into a boardroom for two hours, and that meeting has just cost the company about $1,000 in wages. Keep it up for a year, and the company is down about $50K. And that’s just one team. It is unlikely that this company generates sufficient return from these team pow-wows to merit such frivolousness with employee time. Conducting good meetings is an important skill. Here are some tips for keeping them as short and as productive as possible.
1. Circulate an agenda ahead of time
Circulate an agenda ahead of time and make sure that the presenters are ready to speak. The agenda doesn’t have to be complicated. You don’t need fancy letterhead or special typography. A numbered list of topics in the body of the invitation message will do just fine. Bonus points if you assign a duration to each topic.
2. Distribute collateral in advance
Provide any relevant collateral in advance of the meeting, and request that attendees be familiar with the material before attending (especially if there are any lazy – or overly busy – people in your group, or people who might prioritize prep work as low on their list). If you are organizing the meeting to solicit comments on a particular something, make sure that you distribute this something as collateral in advance. You want everyone ready and able to participate from the get-go.
3. Reserve time in your room before your meeting
Book your meeting room, and then reserve an extra 15-minute time slot in the room just before the meeting so you can get in there early and set up your visuals, teleconference, chairs, drinks, or anything else you think you might need. If you don’t book that 15-minute time slot, you might show up to prepare and find the room occupied with another group. You’ll then make your attendees wait while you use valuable meeting time just to set up.
4. Be punctual with your start time
Start the meeting on time. Call your attendees if they are not there immediately. Don’t twiddle your thumbs hoping that they’ll show up. People will understand if you do not wait for them to begin. Don’t enable stragglers. Respect the other attendees by starting on time.
5. Keep the conversation relevant
Stick to the agenda when chairing the meeting. Keep a close eye on the conversation and get ready to steer it back on track if it starts to deviate. Don’t wait for 10 minutes before trying to reel it back in. Get ready to pounce as soon as it hasn’t come back organically. Use your best tact and diplomacy when jumping in there. You might have to time your interjection carefully but forcefully if the discussion involves passionate or long-winded individuals.
6. Take good notes
Take good notes to record decision points and key rational. You’ll need these notes for your review and your post-meeting recap.
7. Review often
Quickly review progress after wrapping up each item on the agenda. This emphasizes momentum and encourages the rest of the team to stay on track.
8. Assign next steps
Absolutely every meeting should end with a recap of all decision points, and issuance of “next steps”. Be explicit with who is responsible for doing what. Get everyone to confirm and agree with what has been assigned to them, including due dates.
9. Send out meeting recap
As soon as possible following your meeting, summarize the discussion and email a recap, including next steps, to all attendees. Make this recap a bulleted list so it’s easy and quick to refer to, and be explicit with who is responsible for actioning each next step. Ensure any timelines are specifically recorded. By documenting the outcome of the meeting in this official way, those responsible will feel more accountable and you will increase the probability that the work will get done and that your project will be delivered successfully.
Follow these nine steps when planning and hosting meetings and you will save yourself time, you will save your company money, you will be more productive, and your overall probability of success will improve in every way.