Nick Pollitt, managing director of office furniture supplier DBI Furniture Solutions, explains how to avoid bad meetings and boost productivity in the workplace.
Recent research suggests that unproductive meetings are costing the UK a staggering £582m a week, so if bad meetings are a regular occurrence in your workplace, it could be seriously damaging your bottom line.
When you’ve got a million and one things to do, it’s often easier to throw a meeting in the diary and assume your problem will be fixed. But without proper planning, that doesn’t happen, and you just end up more frustrated.
So how can you ensure that your meetings achieve what they’re supposed to?
1. Make sure you actually need the meeting
About to drop a meeting in your calendar? Take a second to sit back and think about whether or not it’s really necessary.
There are a few things you can ask yourself that will help you decide either way:
What’s your objective? — If it’s to reach a decision among a group of people, a meeting might be necessary, but if it’s just a status report, email instead.
Do you need an answer to a question? — If it’s a question that can be answered by one or even two people, it might be better just to go over to their desk and ask them in person without needing to book out time and a room.
What would happen if the meeting wasn’t held? — Could you get the information another way?
2. Nail down your agenda
Writing an agenda for a meeting should be common practice within your business. Without one, you set yourself up for an aimless discussion that comes to no real conclusion and wastes the time of everyone involved.
When writing an agenda, start with your key objective: what’s the one thing you want to get out of the meeting? You can then tailor your agenda around that key goal and share it with attendees ahead of time so they can prepare their key points.
3. Make your invite list more exclusive
Take a look at your invite list. Is there anyone on there who won’t be able to contribute anything of value?
Remember: a person might be involved in your project, but they don’t necessarily need to be at every meeting to stay updated.
Instead, separate anyone out who won’t be involved in providing vital input, and make sure they’re CC’d into the meeting notes afterwards. That way, they stay in the loop without having to sacrifice their time..
4. Involve a decision maker
One of the most frustrating things that can happen in a meeting is for everyone to be in agreement about something but unable to move forward with it because no-one in the room has the authority to give the go-ahead.
If a decision is beyond your remit, invite someone with the power to approve a new approach into the meeting itself. Be sure to speak to that person face-to-face before the meeting takes place so they don’t send a delegate instead.
5. Start on time
If you delay your meetings to wait for someone else, you’re permitting a culture of lateness. All that empty time costs your business money, so even if not everyone is at the meeting, you need to set an example by always starting on time.
Start the discussion the minute you said you would. Remember, people will have other meetings scheduled in their diaries, so if yours overruns, you have a domino effect on the productivity of all the other meetings that day.
6. Cut down the length of the meeting
When people know they have an hour to discuss something, they’ll do so at a fairly leisurely place, allowing space for tangents that can be detrimental to the productivity of your meeting.
Try halving the time of your meetings. For one, you’re halving the cost to your business, but what you might be pleasantly surprised by is how much you’ll still cover in that time. Having a clear agenda (see point 1) will help you blast through all the key points you need to discuss with time to spare.
7. Try a stand-up meeting
Stand-up meetings are becoming more and more popular because, like standing desks, they help get oxygen to the brain better than the typical reclined position you might adopt in a meeting room.
Standing meetings also help keep the length of time to a minimum: after all, who wants to be on their feet for a full hour?
8. Appoint a scribe
Everyone leaves a meeting with a different idea about what’s been said. Appointing a scribe ensures that there are no key details missed and that everyone is in agreement.
A scribe should take notes on key updates that have been shared for the benefit of those that aren’t at the meeting and keep track of any actions that are brought up.
When the meeting has finished, ask the scribe to read back the actions. You should collectively decide who should take responsibility for each action so there has been a public commitment made.
Have the actions distributed to everyone that was in the meeting immediately afterwards so that there’s no delay in getting started. You should include a review of these actions in your agenda for a follow-up meeting.
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