12 Steps to Actual Productive Meetings

We’ve all arrived on time for the start of a meeting only to sit around waiting and waiting for the meeting to start because some of the invitees have not arrived.  We’ve all had a meeting hijacked by one or two people who completely derail the purpose of the meeting.  We’ve all responded to endless emails trying to find an actual date to have a meeting.  And, lastly, we’ve all attended meetings wondering why we’re there, why on earth did the organizer even schedule a meeting, and where is the respect for my time?

 Meetings fill an increasing number of hours in the workday, even though most employees consider them a waste of time. Meetings are often necessary but if they have no structure or purpose they can unnecessarily kill productivity and result in an enormous waste of people’s time.  To combat unnecessary, unproductive or otherwise terrible meetings from destroying your team’s day, here are 12 Steps to Actual Productive Meetings:

Step 1:  Do you really need to have a meeting?  

  • Is a meeting the most effective and productive way to tackle the topic?
  • Would an email or Slack message suffice?
  • If you’re simply sharing information or a status update, email is probably a better use of everyone’s time.

Step 2:  Limit the number of attendees to 5 or under.

  • More than 5 attendees makes it more likely that a meeting will get off track
  • If there are more than 5 attendees it is more likely than not that some attendees will not get a chance to speak
  • Does each attendee that you’ve identified really have to be at the meeting?  When people feel that what’s being discussed isn’t relevant to them, or that they lack the skills or expertise to be of assistance, they'll view their attendance at the meeting as a waste of time.

Step 3:  Your meeting must have a clear agenda

  • The agenda should be sent out at least 1 day in advance
  • Each attendee should know what will be discussed and what they are supposed to be accomplishing
  • A meeting should have a specific and defined purpose.
  • Before you send that calendar invite, ask yourself: What am I trying to accomplish? Are you alerting people to a change in management or a shift in strategy? Are you seeking input from others on a problem facing the company? Are you looking to arrive at a decision on a particular matter? Standing meetings with vague purposes, such as “status updates,” are rarely a good use of everyone’s time.
  • Clarify the issue in 5 words or less.  This will get attendees immediately focused.

Step 4:  Limit Interruptions

  • People should not talk over each other so each attendee gets a chance to voice their opinion
  • Nothing derails a meeting faster than one person talking more than his or her fair share. If you notice one person monopolizing the conversation, call them out. Say, “We appreciate your contributions, but now we need input from others before making a decision.” Be public about it. Establishing ground rules early on will create a framework for how your group functions.

Step 5:  Project the Meeting Notes on a screen

  • There is less confusion or miscommunication this way.
  • It is a surprisingly effective tool to get people to reach agreement.  It's hard to be a holdout if the consensus way forward is on the screen.  If you're a holdout, you'll need to make your objection known now.

Step 6:  Assign Action Items

  • If the purpose of the meeting to get attendees to do something you need to specifically assign action items to those attendees.  They need to know what they’re responsible for.
  • Assigning action items promotes accountability.

Step 7:  Start on Time and End on Time

  • People appreciate it when you understand that their time is valuable.
  • Attendance at meetings that habitually start late and run over are never well-attended.
  • Don’t start over for late arrivals.  

Step 8:  Aim for 30 minutes or less but NEVER More than 60 minutes

  • Do not schedule any meeting to last longer than an hour. 60 minutes is generally the longest time anyone can remain truly engaged.

  • Most meetings really do not need more than 30 minutes.  So ask yourself if you really need more than 30 minutes.  Maybe some pre-work could reduce the amount of time needed.

Step 9:  Smartphones face down

  • The attendees should be following along on the agenda and the discussion and not buried in their phones.  Phones are great but should only be accessed for emergencies and not the latest news.

Step 10:  Make sure to get input from Junior Colleagues

  • Fresh opinions bring fresh ideas and junior colleagues can surprise you with a different perspective.

  • If you’re developing talent this is a great way to do it.

Step 11:  Direct off-topic items to the parking lot

  • Attendees will often get off-topic from the agenda.  When that happens those topics should be acknowledged as something interesting to discuss at a later time but it’s not on the agenda for the current meeting.  Put that topic in the meeting notes and find a separate meeting for that to be a part of the agenda.

Step 12:  Permit Attendees to send an authorized delegate

  • You may not get a meeting scheduled for months if you don’t permit original invitees to send an authorized delegate.  
  • BUT those delegates have to have authority to make decisions

Let us know your tips for Actual Productive Meetings!