“Meetings are indispensable when you don’t want to do anything.”— John Kenneth Galbraith, economist.
As we can all attest, business meetings often waste valuable productive time and tend to last far longer than they should.
Until we learn to communicate telepathically, they will remain a necessary evil—not just as a means of exchanging ideas and information—but also as a way to build relationships.
That doesn’t mean we have to like them.
It’s all about the value of time
As economist and social theorist Thomas Sowell quipped, “People who enjoy meetings should not be in charge of anything.” Whether he meant it facetiously or not, there’s a grain of truth in Sowell’s statement. Someone who enjoys meetings might actually prolong them and anything else they laid their hands on.
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Making the most of meetings
You might never actually enjoy meetings, but you can make them more tolerable with these tips:
1. Decide whether a given meeting is necessary. You may discover you can handle the issue with a few emails or a conference call. Why call a meeting if you don’t need one?
2. Get started on time. If someone doesn’t arrive on time, tough. Start when you agreed to, and don’t start over just because people arrive late. They can check the minutes to find out what you discussed, or they can get notes from a colleague.
3. Use a facilitator. Have someone direct the meeting. Their role should include keeping the discussion on topic, acknowledging speakers, soliciting the opinions of the quieter attendees, and keeping a few people from dominating the meeting. They should also be in charge of ending the meeting on time.
4. Change the venue. You don’t necessarily have to conduct your meeting in a conference room. You can achieve a much more relaxed, open atmosphere by holding your meeting over coffee at the local coffee shop. There’s no reason to remain tied to your office, and a venue change may make attendees more creative.
5. Provide food. People feel better when there’s something to munch on during a meeting. If some of the attendees are counting calories, provide an array of crudités or fruits, as well as bagels and doughnuts.
6. Make the agenda crystal clear. People need to know why they’re meeting and what you expect to accomplish as a result. Distribute the agenda and associated materials well in advance, at least 24 hours, preferably 72. Be clear at the end about what decisions were made, as well as who is responsible for what, and by when.
7. Be picky about who attends. If a meeting has little to do with certain colleagues, don’t invite them. Just “showing the flag” isn’t a good enough reason to have the usual suspects at a meeting. Send them a copy of the minutes if they need to have a general idea of what happened. It’s cheaper and simpler.
8. Schedule breaks for long meetings. This will allow people to take care of biological needs and stretch their legs. A good rule of thumb is a five- to 10-minute break per hour. In seminars, I never go longer than 90 minutes without getting people up to stretch.
The bottom line
You may have noticed that I didn’t suggest an icebreaker activity to increase the meeting’s “fun quotient.” Icebreakers take up valuable time, and routine meetings aren’t supposed to be fun—just necessary.
If you’re having an off-site retreat or something more atypical with “team building” as a goal, this might be appropriate. Although a business meeting might never be a blast, you can make them effective and efficient if you’ll implement the eight points I’ve suggested here.
What other protocols have you found to make meetings more efficient? What guidelines does your team follow to make them more effective?
Laura Stack runs The Productivity Pro, where a version of this article originally appeared.