We’ve all sat in a meeting where we wondered what the purpose was, why the meeting was held and what we were supposed to accomplish through it. And if we are honest, in some cases, we may have led a meeting that did not achieve what we intended it to. If this has happened to you, you are not alone.
In 2015, Mersive’s “The Truth about Meeting Culture” study revealed top meeting challenges to be: staying on task, getting everyone to participate, and coming to decisions and actions for next steps. And in 2017, Harvard Business Review surveyed 182 senior managers from various industries, wherein 71 percent of respondents said meetings are unproductive and inefficient.
It’s safe to say that, for the majority of us, meetings aren’t working. They’re a source of team dysfunction and it’s up to us as leaders to make a change and set the stage for our meetings to be more efficient, more productive and well worth people’s time. Let’s explore seven ways to maximize the efficiency and effectiveness of team meetings.
1. Be prepared with a clear agenda.
As simple as it may seem, having a meeting agenda with topics and outcomes will significantly enhance the success of your meeting. Take it a step further and add the purpose of the meeting at the top of your agenda. Distribute it to participants ahead of time and incorporate the timing of topics to help keep the focus of the conversation on track.
2. Invite participation during the meeting.
Lack of participation during meetings can cause significant frustration for everyone, and withholding information is a sign of team dysfunction. Think about what could be contributing to this problem: Did you invite conversation during the meeting? Are your team members somehow communicating something with their silence? Be intentional by asking questions like, “What are we missing?” and “What have we not thought of?” to create an environment that welcomes different points of view.
3. Offer multiple ways to participate.
If you have ever noticed some participants sharing their insights after the meeting rather than during, it could be that they need time to process the information before responding. Build in a follow-up response system for those who may require additional time to process or who may not be comfortable speaking in large groups. This feedback capture can be stored in an online repository where additional comments can be added within 24 hours after a problem-solving meeting.
4. Shorten the meeting time.
One hour is often the standard meeting time most people use; however, to minimize time-wasting, consider meetings that can be capped at 15 or 30 minutes for problem-solving. This provides laser focus for the one or two meeting items that you outlined in your agenda.
5. Use surveys and interviews to ensure you are collecting data from all members.
Before scheduling a meeting, weigh the consequences that could come with pulling people away from their work. Where does this meeting prioritize in comparison to what the team is working on? Should the meeting be held at a later date? Is the meeting really necessary in the first place? If a meeting’s purpose is to achieve consensus and doesn’t require in-person negotiations, consider using a polling tool. Microsoft Outlook, for example, has a polling feature that allows participants to vote on an issue right from their inbox.
6. Speak last.
Do participants feel they need to agree with the majority or stay silent? As a leader, you will naturally have a psychological hierarchy in the team. Avoid sharing your thoughts first as it tends to set the stage for everyone else to follow. In some cases, go last or refrain from commenting at all.
7. Improve facilitation skills.
If a significant portion of your job is to lead meetings, invest in improving your facilitation skills. A well-run meeting is done so with intent and design. A good facilitator can help to maintain the flow, curtail any dominating thoughts or ideas, and create the space for team members to contribute without feeling scared or intimidated.
Effective and productive meeting management is challenging, but not impossible. There is no way to get around collaborating to get things done and accomplish team goals. If your approach doesn’t seem to be achieving the results you were striving for, try something different.