How to make meetings more productive
13 July 2016
5 min read
If you work in an office then there’s every chance you’re stuck in meetings for over ten hours a week. Indeed, a 2013 survey suggested UK workers spend four hours per week in wasted meetings, which adds up to the scary but true figure of one year’s worth of lost time over a career. So, how do you avoid pointless meetings, and how do you get the most out of the ones you organise? We thoroughly recommend you spend three minutes reading this article to find out; just think how much time it could save you over the long run!
Work out the cost
Take a look at your last group meeting. Now consider how much it cost, by working out how much time it took people away from their desks, what preparation they might have done, and how much their salary is per hour. Even if you ignore the hidden costs of meeting rooms and refreshments, you might be surprised by the final figure. After all, seven people in a one-hour meeting is equivalent to one working day.
Modern tech has made it far too easy to send a group invite for a meeting… and then forget about it until a 15-minute reminder pops up. That’s no use to anyone. You should have a clear agenda; you should know exactly what you want to get from the meeting; if people need information, you should have that prepared well in advance and remind attendees to read it; you should have a clear idea of why each person is in the meeting, and how you can use them to help you (eg should someone else be checking the clock?). If you aren’t the organiser, ask them the day before the meeting for an agenda and any background information; if they can’t supply it, should you waste your time going?
Capture the outcomes
Here’s when you can take advantage of modern technology. Rather than scrawling notes in a book (that often never gets looked at again), make sure someone is capturing notes – and, crucially, action points – in OneNote. This is where 2-in- 1 laptops like HP’s own Elite x2 1012 come into their own. Fully fledged laptop when you need it, brilliant note-taker when you just want to write something freehand. As soon as the meeting’s done, you can send round the notes and assign actions to the relevant people.
Stick to your timings (the start and end)
There’s often a culture of arriving late at meetings, or using the first ten minutes in mindless small talk. Communication is good, but often the start-of- meeting-chatter is just space filler. By making sure meetings start and finish on time, you’ll stay focused on why you’re having the meeting and stop it drifting. Plus, people who come to your meetings will soon learn that the start and end times are always accurate. This is where a Windows 10 laptop can help too. If you use Cortana to say, “Cortana, set a reminder for 25 minutes” at the start of the meeting, not only will you get a five- minute warning before the end of a half-hour meeting, it will make everyone aware of the time limit too.
Move away from 30-minute meetings
Talking of which, how often do you stick to 30 minutes for a meeting? Because it’s the default appointment length in many organisational tools, organisers often lazily put half an hour in as the duration of the meeting. But is that the right amount of time? Almost certainly not, so work out your own set of times, even if that’s five minutes for a stand-up, morning briefing.
Correct your frequency
How many repeating meetings do you have in your calendar? They may only be for 15 minutes each, but every single one is an interruption from your working day – and for everyone involved. That’s great if the meetings are meaningful, but often we stick to an established schedule long after it’s run its course. If you see a meeting pop up and think, “Oh no, not that one again”, then correct its frequency for the sake of all concerned.
Mix up the attendees
If the make-up of your meetings are often the same – for example, the same level of seniority, experience or gender – and don’t match the target for your product, then you should take deliberate steps to mix up the attendees. While some less experienced employees may need to be encouraged to talk in the company of their seniors, they’re also likely to be closest to the people who are actually buying what you’re selling. It’s a great way to discover that you’re reacting to the current market rather than the one that was prevalent when you were a junior.
Get everyone talking
If you’re the meeting organiser, make sure you give everyone a chance to contribute at the start of the meeting. Studies show that people are much more likely to voice their views once they’ve “broken the seal”. The flip side: if you’re the attendee, and the type of person that doesn’t naturally say something, force yourself to contribute at the start of the meeting.
Ban “informational” meetings
If you’re having a meeting to “get everyone up to speed” then stop, right now. There are many better tools for sharing information than gathering everyone into one place, so meetings shouldn’t be there to rubber-stamp decisions. Instead, work out whether there’s still a debate to be had – in which case, go for it – or to map out the next steps following the decision.
Don’t confuse brainstorming with meetings
There’s some debate about the value of brainstorms – just read Richard Wiseman’s book, 59 Seconds: Think a Little, Change a Lot – but if you are going to press ahead with them, make sure they look nothing like a regular meeting. Use a different environment. Establish strong ground rules (for example, no criticism of an idea unless you’ve got a better alternative). Make sure everyone comes armed with ideas and that everyone contributes. And, definitely, upgrade to a higher class of biscuit.