8 tips to stop wasting time in meetings

In the corporate world you can drown in meetings. Estimates are, that if you’re a middle manager, you can spend about 35% of your time in meetings. If you’re in upper management, that goes up to 50%. Check out this meeting info-graph.

When we spend all this time in meetings, you would think that we run them efficiently and effectively. You might assume that we prepare well and try to be the best we can in every meeting. You might expect corporate talk about high performance, excellence and disruption in the way we run our meetings. We would prepare and run meetings like an elite athlete prepares for a game right?

For many years I facilitated S&OP and leadership meetings, where we discussed strategy, gaps to budget and innovation with the most senior leaders in the business. Here are some ways I used to get my meetings organized, structured and more efficient.

1. Get the logistics right

You need to have a defined objective for every meeting. Expected inputs and outputs need to be clear. Location, timing, dates meeting room agenda and actions points from last meeting have to be published well before the meeting. Participants and their role and responsibility need to be defined. Formalize the environment for larger meeting, consider standing up for smaller meetings. You can use a simple template like this.

2. Don’t have the meeting

If most of the boxes in the meeting logistics are not ticked, you won’t have an effective meeting. Consider not having the meeting or reschedule it for when you do get the logistics right. Try and be Dutch like me and make a point to hang up and re-plan a conference call where you’ve been waiting 5-10 minutes for everybody to dial in. 

3. No back to backs

Have you heard the excuse; ‘I got back to backs the whole day?’ Make it company policy for meetings to stop 10 minutes before the hour. So there is at least some time left to prepare and run to the next meeting. Use a timekeeper next to the meeting facilitator to stick to these timings.

4. Define meeting rules

Write in a company policy what the expected meeting behaviours are like for example being on time, actively contribute, staying positive and leaving a clean meeting room. I defined meeting rules with a cross functional team and printed little cards with those rules and put them visibly in every meeting room. This makes it easier to hold people to account.

5. Demand commitment

Ask commitment from participant to the meeting rules and be ruthless if there is no commitment. People that join late or are not focused have to be called out. People who do not join without a delegate have to be held accountable. In the many leadership meetings I facilitated, I used a very simple public tally of people who were present. It does wonders to start a weekly or monthly meeting by showing that tally and give everybody some time to reflect.

6. Focus

In one survey, 69% of people admit to check emails, 92% confessed to multitasking in a meeting. I’ve even seen a senior executive playing a game on his phone during a meeting! Be present, be in the moment and be mindful. Don’t just check in when you have to protect your little silo. Listen with the intention to learn and to be influenced. Gently call people out who don’t focus. Consider practicing mindfulness to control your thoughts and attention span.

7. Give positive energy

There are two types of people; energy givers and energy takers! A senior manager – an energy taker dare I say – once told me that I brought so much positive energy to team meetings. He asked me to keep doing that as it was so good for his team meeting. I told him that it was my choice to do so and it was my conscious choice to leave the room better, more energized, smarter or decisive, then when I entered. If it doesn’t come natural to you make an effort. It might help to know that negative people die younger, are more depressed and are generally outperformed by people with a positive attitude. Arghhh! 

8. Ask feedback after the meeting

 if we want to continuously improve that 30% to 50% of time we spend in meetings we need to understand the perception and feelings of the participants. Ask feedback on logistics, meeting rules, decisiveness, follow through, behaviours or any other aspect on how to run a meeting effectively. The first time I asked feedback in a business I worked for, half the leadership team looked blank at me and didn’t have a clue what to say. Two years down the track, the Managing Director didn’t let me finish the meeting before we had a round of feedback.

There are many more to add, but if you get these right you’re doing pretty well. In my next post I will share with you how to mentally prepare like an elite athlete before a meeting.

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