6 Quick Fixes To Make Meetings Less Of A Time Suck

The No. 1 time-waster at the office year after year is too many meetings. Think that's unacceptable? Here's how to make those notorious time-sucks as efficient and infrequent as possible.

You’ve called a meeting to plan a staff retreat and have allotted one hour to discuss the details of your retreat: the location, the date, the theme, and the attendees. But at the end of the hour, you haven’t reached decisions on any of those matters, so you schedule yet another meeting.

Sound familiar?

It turns out a lot of people feel meetings are a colossal time-waster. In a recent survey by Salary.com, "too many meetings" was cited as the No. 1 time-waster at the office.

The problem with meetings is that they can be effective, but they are rarely efficient. The good news is that we can boost meeting productivity and efficiency, shave a half hour off our work day, spend more time doing the work we love, and stop draining our staffs of their energy and morale.

All we have to do is change our entrenched system for running meetings. Here’s how:

1. Understand the problem with the system

We make a list of items to discuss for a certain amount of time. We call it an agenda, and we discuss those items until time runs out. Think about the last meeting you attended. Was a goal among the items on the agenda? At any point during the meeting, did anyone express a clear goal or a desired result that the meeting was intended to produce?

Let's start our previous meeting about the company retreat over. On a flip chart behind you, draw four red boxes. You label those boxes: Date. Location. Theme. Committee.

You tell your staff that the goal of the meeting is to reach decisions on those four topics. The meeting will be adjourned once you have reached those decisions and filled in the red boxes.

How long do you think meeting number two will take?

2. Identify your meeting’s goal

The purpose of every meeting should be to accomplish a goal. The goal is why you’re holding the meeting in the first place.

Ask yourself, “What do I want or need to be different as a result of this meeting? This meeting is taking place to make what happen?”

The goal should never be to talk about something or to hold discussions on a list of items or topics. You only discuss a topic during a meeting to reach your goal.

3. Set the Agenda

Plan your agenda backwards from that goal. This is the advanced way of thinking about an agenda, as a map that gets you to your goal.

4. Differentiate between Goals and Strategies

Do not confuse a goal with a strategy. Your goal is the top of a mountain—it should remain fixed. A strategy is a path up the mountain.

There can be many paths up to the mountaintop, and your meeting is about choosing the best path to reach the summit. Discussions about strategies should be fluid and open. Be firm on your goal, but flexible on strategy.

5. Streamline your meetings

If the meeting is not absolutely necessary, cancel it. Include in the meeting only those people who absolutely must be there.

If two or more people become involved in a secondary discussion that does not involve the whole group, ask them to sidebar the conversation—or table it to a later time outside of the meeting—and report back to the group.

If a person is going long in their comments, ask him to summarize his thoughts for the group. We run on because we are passionate about our topic. We repeat ourselves if we feel we are not being heard. Asking for summaries provides the validation and acknowledgment the speaker is seeking, and moves the meeting along.

6. Assign homework

At the close of each meeting, ask each person to commit to one action they will do to move the company or team closer to its goal. Give a deadline by which these actions are to be taken. Assign someone to record the commitments, and to follow up with staffers by the deadline.

With these techniques, a one-hour meeting can be cut to 45 minutes, with plenty of time for creativity, socializing, and even some goofing around.

Bill Hoogterp is an executive communication coach in both the corporate and non-profit sectors. He developed his own trademarked methodology for teaching public speaking, the Own The Room course, and founded Blue Planet Training, LLC, a company that teaches public speaking courses all over the world.

[Image: Flickr user Sebastiaan ter Burg]

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2 Comments

  • Great article, Bill! I think people intuitively sense that the way they're doing meetings wastes a lot of time, it's interesting to see the survey data prove that out. I agree that distinguishing the meeting goals from a set of topics can make a huge difference. I'm a fan of the question "What does winning look like at the end of the meeting? which similarly focuses the group on a specific outcome.

    Dave Kashen Co-founder, MeetingHero http://www.meetinghero.com

  • It's very interesting to know that meetings are considered THAT much of time wasting, but i think it is a good reminder for us all to have an effective meeting

    no 2 and no 4 is the most inspiring for me, now i realize that i need to allot time to these (no 1). Ooh i just love articles like this, Thanks Bill !!