Picture this. You’re in the conference room (or maybe your office), agenda in hand. People are gathering — taking their seats. Marty is late — he’s always late. You start your meeting, rattling off the items to be covered, and quickly begin by hammering away at agenda item number one: “Discuss the Barnaby progress.” There’s discussion. Then, in comes Marty, breathless and apologetic, begging to be brought up to speed ….
It’s true, meetings do sometimes provide a break from the fast-paced work environment … and it can be nice to have interaction … and an audience. But if half that meeting time is spent listening to chitchat and tangents or waiting for stragglers, that’s wasted time. Multiply that wasted time by the number of people in the meeting and suddenly a one-hour meeting with eight people has just swollen to eight wasted hours.
If you’re initiating the meeting, cut down on wasted time. Here are a few things to consider.
- Do you need to meet? If you’re just sharing information, you can do that electronically. Even the preliminary parts of discussion can happen without face-to-face interaction. The meeting should be the time to make the decision and assign necessary tasks.
- Set a definite start and end time and stick to it. Don’t wait for stragglers — and definitely don’t stop to recap what you’ve discussed so far. It’ll be their responsibility to catch up after the meeting. If they’re chronically late, talk to them separately about the time lost by those waiting. Stick to the end time — the pace will be faster. Consider setting an end time that is half the time you usually meet.
- Have goals and an agenda. Items on the agenda should be things you’ll make a decision on and commit to. Discussions can go on for days — don’t include “discussion” items on the agenda, unless there will be a decision. If you have handouts, distribute them before the meeting, so participants can already be thinking about the topic.
- Who’s invited? Ideally, you want participants who will contribute — participants who will have a role when tasks are assigned following your decision. Encourage everyone invited to be involved in the decision.
- Stay on task. Tell participants up front that you’ll be working to keep the meeting short and on topic. Tangents should be tabled for another day. Chitchat should be limited. Assign a moderator to help enforce this.
- Careful notes will help everyone stay on the same page. Strategically assign a notetaker — this could be the person who usually talks too much. Or it could be the quietest person, who will in the end do the recap. Leave the meeting with every person knowing what their part in the follow-up plan will be.
Don’t waste your time or that of your meeting participants. First, decide if you really need to meet. Then set some goals for the meeting and a strict beginning and end time. Invite only the key people. Keep them on task. And when you’re finished, summarize and send them off with a specific plan for what’s next and who’s doing it.