Few employees truly look forward to work meetings. Many employers don’t either. They know that poorly planned and executed meetings can be a big drain on productivity.
A recent study reported by Inc quantified that productivity drain. Its findings are shocking: Meetings cost U.S. employers an estimated $400 billion in lost productivity in 2019.
Some meetings do add value to the enterprise. Others qualify as essential. But regardless of the purpose or value of the meeting, it’s vital from a resource perspective that meeting operators follow an efficient meeting plan and treat meeting prep with the respect it deserves.
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Want to make your organization’s meetings more productive? Follow these guidelines for a better meeting plan that keeps your team on track.
1. Use a Meeting Agenda Template
Every meeting your organization runs should run on a meeting agenda template that’s customized to its purpose and objectives. Whether it’s a major strategy meeting bringing together all your team leads or a regular weekly team check-in, everyone involved needs to know what will be discussed during the meeting and at what times. Crucially, they need to know when the meeting will end and trust it not to run over.
2. Determine Whether the Meeting Is Necessary at All
Let’s back up a step. Having a meeting agenda template is vital if you really plan to go through with the meeting. But that could be a big “if.” Maybe the meeting isn’t strictly necessary at all.
Maybe you can replace the meeting with a less demanding, disruptive format. For example, most one-on-one meetings can easily be replaced by asynchronous communication, like email or workplace chat. Most team status updates don’t need scheduled meetings as well; simply ask every team member to update their status by a set deadline. Most presentations are better done as “watch when you can” assignments rather than “be here now” directives.
3. Begin on Time, Even If Not Everyone Is Present
A hard start time is very important to a successful meeting. And it’s important to follow through even if not everyone expected to attend the meeting is present at the outset.
Don’t worry too much about how this expectation affects meeting productivity. Attendees will come to take punctuality more seriously over time as they learn that organizers won’t hold up the proceedings on their behalf. And those that really can’t make the hard start may have better things to do, which is why it’s important to use terms like “mandatory” and “all hands” sparingly. Few meetings really, truly need to be mandatory.
4. Have a Clear Objective for the Meeting
Every meeting needs a purpose. That purpose might be brainstorming a new project, setting a new strategy, checking in on progress toward a previously agreed goal, or debriefing (“lessons learned”) a project outcome. This purpose should be clearly evident in the meeting template.
Every meeting needs a clear objective too. This objective needs to answer the question: “What will this meeting accomplish?” Every piece of the meeting agenda should then work toward that end.
5. Don’t Have a Predetermined Outcome
A clear objective is not the same as a predetermined outcome. When the meeting organizer knows the outcome in advance, they might as well cancel the meeting and tell everyone what they’ve decided. It should be clear to everyone involved that the meeting’s deliverables remain very much up for debate.
6. Avoid “Last Thing” Scheduling
Schedule your meetings sensibly and avoid “last thing” scheduling whenever possible, like setting your start for 4 p.m. on a Friday afternoon. Instead, schedule meetings for when you’re likely to attract high participation (without making the event mandatory) and when attendees are likely to be at their sharpest. This might mean first thing in the morning, early afternoon, or some other time that you know works well for your team.
7. Encourage Note-Taking and Active Listening
Encourage active in-meeting behaviors that correlate with higher retention and engagement rates. For example, while you can’t force attendees to take notes and record questions for the scheduled end-of-meeting Q&A, you can hand out paper and pens at in-person meetings. And you can review the basic principles of active listening during the first two minutes of every get-together.
8. Involve Attendees in Every Meeting They’re Expected to Attend
Every meeting attendee should have a role to play in the event.
This is true even for larger meetings where it’s impractical for every attendee to have a significant speaking role. Small-group breakouts work well to knit rank-and-file attendees into the fabric of the event. Group leads can then present breakout deliverables to the meeting organizers after the fact or present them to attendees directly if their numbers are manageable.
In smaller meetings, such as where only a handful of team members are present, it is reasonable to expect everyone to play a role in the meeting execution. Give each attendee responsibility for a different portion of the program and watch creativity take root.
9. Send Out a Meeting Summary With Clear Next Steps
Always recap the meeting in a comprehensive but focused summary sent out to all attendees after the event ends. This summary should reinforce what happened at the meeting and make sure everyone knows what happens next. Ideally, it should review the accountability structure produced by the meeting and outline who is accountable for each portion of the outcome.
Make Your Meetings a Force for Productivity
Every leader is capable of running better meetings. It just requires a new way of thinking about the purpose, agenda, and deliverables of each get-together. Each of these strategies will help turn your organization’s meetings into a force for action rather than a drag on productivity.
A meeting agenda template ensures everyone is on the same page before the meeting begins and keeps participants on track (and on schedule) while it’s in progress. Simple strategies to increase attendee engagement, like encouraging active listing and finding a way for everyone involved to participate, increase the value produced by the meeting and the morale of all involved. And a post-meeting summary reinforces the meeting’s deliverables and sustains momentum long after it ends.
Changing how your organization approaches meetings might take some getting used to. It’ll be well worth the effort if and when the change sticks.