How To Make Meetings Productive – And Painless.
To meet or not to meet?
The first thing to do is ask yourself whether you need to have the meeting at all. This may seem like a no-brainer. But not enough people ask this question before scheduling a meeting. How many meetings did you attend this past week that weren’t productive—or even necessary?
If you need the meeting, be sure you understand why—and share this reason with the attendee list. Also sounds like a no-brainer, but too many meetings are convened without a clear objective. To formulate one, complete this sentence: “By the end of the meeting, I want to have accomplished …”
If the objective is to reach a decision, be clear with the attendees what type of decision it is. Some decisions are made autonomously by a single person, with no input—in which case, you don’t need a meeting. But other decisions require either input or a consensus. Make it clear at the outset which type of decision is to be made and what is expected of the attendees: to provide input for a decision you will ultimately make yourself, or to make the decision as a group.
Don’t invite everybody and their brother.
Now that you’ve established the objective of the meeting, it’s time to decide who needs to attend. Depending on the size of your business, the temptation may be to simply invite everyone. But often, the more people you invite, the less productive meetings become.
Amazon purportedly has a “two-pizza rule” for meetings: there should be no more people in a meeting than two pizzas can reasonably feed.1 Harvard Business Review offers a more specific guideline—limit the attendees to fewer than eight people.2
There may be no magic number of people or pizzas for running effective meetings, but think about who really needs to be there in order to achieve the objective. Would you cancel the meeting if they couldn’t be there? If the answer is yes, then they’re essential and should attend. Those people are your core group of attendees. Don’t invite anyone else unless they would add value to the meeting, or gain value from it.
How long is too long?
For more productive meetings, you should not only limit the invitee list, but you should also limit the time allotted for the meeting. How can you cut down on the meeting time? For starters, begin and end the meeting on time. Don’t spend time recapping what’s already happened for people who arrive late. Make it clear you expect attendees to have already read any materials you’ve provided in advance of the meeting, so you won’t have to spend time going over them.
What about that one person in the meeting who always rehashes what other people have already said? This is a huge time-waster. But how do you keep people from doing it? One company came up with a “no rehash paddle” that someone holds up whenever anyone slips into rehash mode.1 It’s a light-hearted reminder to not waste people’s time this way.
The beginning and the end.
You’ve defined your meeting’s objective and listed the essential attendees. Now you can create your meeting agenda. And it’s important to have one at the beginning of the meeting (or even distribute it beforehand).
You’ve set aside a limited amount of time for the meeting, so having an agenda to follow will help ensure you achieve your objective by the time the meeting ends. The agenda should spell out:
- What’s going to be covered
- Who’s going to cover what
- How much time is allotted for each item to be covered
- In what order the items will be covered
The final item in your agenda should be to set an action plan.3 What needs to be done, by whom, and by when? Dedicate the last few minutes of your meeting to capturing this plan.