Take Your Time Back: How To Make Meetings More Productive

Meetings, meetings and more meetings. You’ve one at 8.30am, one at 11am and one at 2.30pm. If each lasts an hour, or even an hour and a half, that leaves you with maybe five hours working time? Actually scrap that, you’ve got to meet with one of your team at 4pm too, so you’re now down to four hours. Half a day’s work, half the productivity you need to get everything you need to done.

It’s a familiar feeling. We’re all time poor, and the humble meeting has become something of a joke. It’s therefore become a contemporary management practice to strip meetings from schedules, in an attempt to instil a no-nonsense no-meeting culture into the working environment in an attempt to “repatriate” time for stressed out professionals.

I agree in part with this philosophy, but one thing that can’t be overlooked is the value that face to face (or virtual) meetings hold in communicating important information, creating collaborative environments focused and energised by common goals and providing opportunities for employees in junior or middle management positions to become involved in more business-like or strategic considerations. Email updates and one-to-ones simply don’t have the same effect.

However, there’s no denying that some meetings are definitely more productive than others, and serve their purpose more effectively, in less time. Here’s a quick guide to making meetings work for you, and your team:

Keep It Short, and Keep It Small
This sounds obvious, but the reason behind it is less so. Paul Axtell, a leading effectiveness consultant, argues that keeping meetings small enables leaders to pick up on valuable body language and subtle changes in tone or discussion. Another reason to consider keeping meetings small in scope is that is sets up an environment where people not only are able to, but also have to contribute. In a large meeting of 20 or more people, Axtell argues you create an environment where people will not only have a chance to talk, but many won’t feel the need do. Cue under-participation, a disconnect in purpose and zero productivity.

Make It Interactive
Leading on from the above point, a key reason behind why meetings fail is that people don’t get involved in a meaningful way. If the two main purposes of meetings are to communicate and share information while also collectively moving towards goal achievement by brainstorming organisational issues, make sure that happens. If you notice people not contributing, ask them for their opinion. If that might make some of your team members uncomfortable, take time before the meeting to ensure them that their contribution is valued. Above all, promote individual accountability in attendees to make your meetings work.

Ask Questions, But Don’t Make Decisions
Being rushed into a decision for the sake of looking decisive and that you are able to take on board everyone’s comments fairly isn’t necessarily also best for business. Although collaborative decision-making is a core principal of meetings, it shouldn’t necessarily follow that these decisions have to be made on the spot. Think less about using meetings to make rushed decisions for the sake of appearances, and more about using them to find information that will support the right decision for every stakeholder present. Synthesizing the information gathered to make a decision based on consensus can come afterwards.

Shake It Up
People get used to formats, which can lead to stagnation. Even if you feel you have a great meeting format, you’ll find over time that people spend less time preparing and potentially less time thinking through the matters at hand as simply they become used to what you are asking from them. Try to raise the stakes by introducing a new section, or introducing a new stakeholder to the table – raising the pressure levels a little and pushing people to think outside the box will breathe fresh life into your meetings.

Read more: Axtell, P., Meetings Matter: 8 Powerful Strategies for Remarkable Conversations

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