Meetings can be a great way to discuss issues, solve problems, and assign tasks that get a job done. Or they can be the antithesis of productivity. After all, how can you get anything done if you’re constantly attending meetings?
Meeting for meeting’s sake certainly does nothing for the participants or the company. Hold a few bad ones, and you lose all credibility as an organizer. If your job is to make sure the business achieves its goals, you’re in trouble.
Meetings can be worthwhile if done right, though. Increasing productivity as the result of meetings begins with making meetings pain-free for everyone involved. Eliminate the grimace on the faces of team members when they see a meeting invite, and their productivity will rise. Here are five ways you can stop the pain.
1. Create an Unstoppable Agenda
Meetings without agendas are generally useless. No one knows what the purpose of the meeting is, and people ramble on about irrelevant issues. Everyone leaves the meeting wondering why they had to be there.
Every meeting needs an agenda, but not just any agenda. A good agenda gets sent to participants early, elicits their input, assigns topics to specific people, and sets time limits. It establishes expectations for the meeting, guides participants through it, and prompts action.
The best meeting agenda does even more. It also allows for team interaction in setting the content and accommodates notetaking and minutes within the document. This type of agenda is both a living document and historic record.
Everyone needs a road map, and that’s precisely what an agenda is for a meeting. An agenda shared prior to a meeting that is accessible to everyone for real-time input is priceless. It makes meeting planning, execution, and follow-up completely painless.
2. Invite Only the Right People
Although pizza may not be served at every meeting you host, you should apply Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’s two-pizza rule. Don’t invite more people to a meeting than two pizzas can serve. Sticking to this analogy should help you determine who should be at a meeting and whether it’s necessary at all.
Having the right people attend means seating those at the table with a stake or role in the topic. That means discussions should be relevant to the business at hand. The right people should leave the meeting with a resolution or an actionable assignment that produces one.
You also avoid feeding meeting exhaustion for people who don’t have a vested interest in the topic you’re addressing. The exhaustion is real, now more than ever. In fact, time spent in Microsoft Teams meetings from February 2020 to February 2021 more than doubled and continues to rise.
Everyone’s time is valuable, so keep colleagues focused on relevant tasks rather than inviting them to irrelevant meetings. It will help minimize grumpy and off-topic comments. And that will make meetings more enjoyable for the people who do need to attend.
3. Use Visuals to Maintain Focus
We live in a visual world. From social media posts to mobile apps and websites, to television and movies, everyone is attracting attention using visuals. It’s simply more engaging to show, not tell.
Visuals aren’t merely more pleasing to an audience. They pair with incoming information in the brain. That connection makes information more meaningful and easier to retain over time.
Fortunately, it has never been easier to create visuals for meetings. You can plop a color bar chart in the middle of your meeting agenda in minutes. Or you can search for a related meme to drop into a PowerPoint presentation to lighten it up.
For example, if you’re meeting with your salesforce to discuss strategy, use visuals that illustrate sales goals and progress. These help them see where they are, where you want them to end up, and key stops on the way.
4. Stick to a Schedule
The ideal length of a meeting depends on the type of meeting it is. You neither want to shortchange an agenda that needs significant time nor drag out one that should be brief. Whatever duration you decide is best, put it on the meeting invite and the agenda, then stick to it.
Routine team meetings should last 30 minutes or less. Weighty meeting topics, such as major company decisions or strategic planning, may take a day. Just remember that people get bleary-eyed by the 45-minute mark, so schedule some breaks.
Sticking to the agenda will help keep you on track. At the same time, you should avoid cutting people off when they’re addressing an issue relevant to the agenda. Instead, suggest that the discussion be continued at a separate meeting to fully vet it.
The agenda and time limit set clear expectations for meeting participants. If you fail to stick to them over time, you’ll lose all enthusiasm for meetings. Make sure the meeting train arrives and leaves on schedule, and people will be happy to jump aboard.
5. Leave No Flies on the Walls
If you invited the right people to a meeting, there should be no proverbial flies on the wall. Everyone should contribute to the substance of the meeting. Some will require a little encouragement, but making them take an active role is part of an organizer’s job.
Start by setting the right tone for the meeting, perhaps by having everyone check in by answering a question. Questions can range from where they are on a project to what they did over the weekend. Just make sure everyone says something before you take a deep dive into the agenda.
During the meeting, ask silent participants what they think, especially if someone else on their team is hogging the floor. Remember that silence can also be a warning sign of an office culture built on intimidation and fear. If that’s the case, you could lose some valuable team members with tremendous potential.
Make every meeting a safe space for participants to weigh in without fear of judgment. This may mean you have to put the kibosh on some people who enjoy the spotlight a little too much. Shoot for meetings where everybody plays and everybody wins.
Meetings should always be intentional and have a defined purpose. Otherwise, you risk having team members not show up or else log into them anticipating yet another time-sucking activity. If you can make meetings pain-free and productive, everyone will welcome the invitation.