Meetings can be the bane of working life, but they don’t have to be a waste of time if you ask yourself a series of questions before every meeting, and only attend meetings that are really necessary. So before you click “accept” on that new calendar invitation, look out for these signs that indicate it’s not going to be a waste of your time.
1) You Know Exactly What The Meeting Is About And What It’s Trying To Accomplish
Part of the reason that a meeting tends to drag on for longer than it needs to is because there is no clear purpose. As a result, attendees might be more likely to veer off topic for long periods of time. Christopher Frank, a VP at American Express, asks everyone to answer the question, “What exactly are we meeting about?” at the start of each meeting. He said, “This will show you if everyone is on the same page or not, and if your meeting topic is focused enough. Are the answers inconsistent or too long? Refocus the meeting and try again.”
2) You Know What Type Of Discussion Will Take Place
Each meeting has a different purpose and commands a different type of discussion. Cameron Herold, business consultant and author of Double Double: How to Double Your Revenue and Profit in Three Years or Less, told Fast Company in a 2015 article that there are three types of meetings: information share, creative discussion, and consensus meetings.
In information-share meetings, attendees are expected to listen, and discussions are generally limited to “requests for clarification.” Creative discussion meetings tend to be an exercise in brainstorming, and consensus meetings require participants to make a unanimous decision. Having a good idea of what type of discussion will take place ahead of time lets you be better prepared, and allows you to plan accordingly.
3) There Is A Clear Agenda To Achieve The Objective
Having an objective is one thing, but a productive meeting focuses on what needs to happen in order to meet that objective. Connie Williams, CMO & chief knowledge officer at Syneticsworld, a company that studies meeting processes, told Fast Company that instead of focusing on the problem, facilitators should frame the agenda in “problem-solving” language. Some examples: How can we build a better campaign? How can we find new clients? As Williams explained, encouraging people to think about solutions means that they’re less likely to focus on the problems.
4) Items Are Prioritized Accordingly
In addition to being solution-focused, a productive meeting prioritizes the most important items and tackles those first. Mat MacInnis, CEO and founder of digital content platform Inkling, previously wrote in Fast Company that his team would always prioritize the meeting items based on what they need to get done that week, and park any debates that spin into “strategic, long-term conversations” for later discussions. At the end of the meeting, everyone knows exactly what they need to execute for the rest of the week.
5) There Are Systems In Place To Prevent Multitasking And Interruptions
Sometimes, it’s not the meeting itself that’s unproductive, but the attendees. Whether they’re answering emails instead of listening to an important announcement, or they’re constantly interrupting another, there needs to be a system in place to prevent this from derailing your meeting. For one, you can either ban digital devices in meetings, or limit them to those who may need them for meeting purposes, such as pulling up a presentation. If it is interruption that you’re trying to fix, you can assign someone to monitor and interject the interruptors, setting the expectation that people should be able to finish what they want to say at every meeting.