7 Steps To Mastering The Art Of A Productive Meeting
1. DON'T HAVE MEETING JUST TO HAVE A MEETING
Can’t stress this enough. You don't get a badge of honor for having the most meetings. Your projects' progress isn’t better because you had more meetings. Pointless meetings take away the time that could have been used for actually, you know, completing tasks. If someone else is inviting you to a meeting that has no point, just say no.
You should start kind of a protest for pointless meetings in your organizations. Don’t plan or attend meetings that are pointless. If someone has scheduled a meeting just to have a meeting and you don’t dare to say no to them, send a link to this blog post to them.
STOP HAVING MEETINGS THAT CAN BE AN EMAIL. Please. In the name of everything that matters.
2. A MEETING SHOULD HAVE CLEAR OBJECTIVES AND AN AGENDA
The objectives of the meeting should be clear. You can check if the objectives were clear enough by asking someone at the end of the meeting, “What was the purpose of this meeting?”. If the question can be and is answered with five words or less, you probably did well.
The way to achieve the objective you have set for your meeting is to have an agenda. Meeting agendas should be provided to participants before the meeting. However, it never hurts to go over the agenda and objectives once more at the beginning of the meeting.
Doing so will help you to keep yourself on track and it’s a good way to remind others what the meeting is about. There’s always that one person that didn’t read your email about the agenda. That way you'll get their attention, too.
3. A MEETING SHOULD HAVE AN END TIME
Your meetings hopefully already have a start time. What they might not have is an end time. Set an end time. Imagine that you have to (don’t ask why, you just have to, life’s that way sometimes) start doing crunches at 2 pm. Imagine the torture if you don’t know when you can stop doing them. The next one might be the last one. The one-hundredth one might be the last one. It would feel much better if you knew you had to do crunches for 2 minutes, right?
Well, it’s the same way with meetings. It’s just easier to concentrate if you know how long the meeting will be. The second good thing about an end time is that the participants will actually know how much time they should plan.
The third good thing is that an end time keeps the meeting on track since it’s easier to stay on topic when you know the time to discuss it is running out. If you are using a resource planning tool to schedule your meetings, you are already kind of forced to set an end time. You can easily schedule meetings by assigning one task to multiple resources in Ganttic.
The end time should never be random. Take a look at your agenda. Set a time estimate for each topic. Go by these estimates. You can even go so far that you start a timer before starting the discussion for each topic. Whatever works best for you. Just have an end time. You’ll see a rise in productivity and creativity. It’s a promise.
4. SHORTER MEETINGS ARE BETTER MEETINGS
You have already heard about 15-minute stand-up meetings. You can schedule 15-minute precision in Ganttic. The reasoning behind 15 minutes being the ultimate default time for a meeting is simple - the average attention span isn’t longer than 18 minutes and you are more alert and more creative while you are standing up. If you are used to meeting that can run for hours, cutting them to 15 minutes might seem impossible.
So you have set your agenda and estimated the optimal time for each topic and the sum is about an hour. Can you group different topics from your agenda somehow? If you can, do it. Now you basically have the agendas for a number of shorter meetings.
Maybe you’ll even understand that one of the topic groups can easily be solved with a few emails. If there is no way to group the topics in your agenda or there is some other reason why you just can’t have short meetings, have regular breaks. Keep the average attention span in mind when you are thinking of when would be a good time for a break.
Additional timing tip: Some say it’s better to start a meeting at a more random time like 3.07. That way people will actually be there a bit sooner and the fuzz at the start of a meeting is diffused.
5. MEETINGS WITH LESS TECHNOLOGY ARE BETTER MEETINGS
Even a slideshow might be too much. If the slideshow doesn’t give actual additional information, it doesn’t help. Keep in mind that your team values meetings that they can actually contribute in. They can watch a slideshow on their own.
Don’t allow laptops for taking notes. You know how it goes. You have your computer in front of you. Oh, I’ll just check my email, it’ll take a second. Oh, I’ll answer a few of those, it’ll take a minute. Computers take the focus away from the meeting.
We can’t multitask. We can only pretend we are multitasking while abandoning one task to do the other. That's why you shouldn't allow phones in the meeting room either. If you schedule meetings that last 15 minutes, there are no fires that can’t be put out after the 15 minutes is over. Unless you are dealing with actual firefighters. If you are, you’ll probably have to modify that rule.
6. MEETINGS WITH FEWER PEOPLE ARE BETTER MEETINGS
If there are fewer people, there’s actually more discussion. It’s all because of the diffusion of responsibility, more specifically social loathing. Meaning that an individual is less likely to actually participate in a situation when other’s are present or that they are likely to put in less effort than they would when they were working alone.
This, of course, doesn’t mean you should stop having meeting altogether. Simple effort math tells us that if five people put in 80% of their potential effort, the sum is still greater than one person giving their 100%. However, 20 people giving 1% of them doesn’t seem to make much sense now, does it?
7. MEETINGS SHOULD HAVE RESULTS
That one is simple. If your meeting already has clear objectives and an agenda, clear results shouldn’t be hard to achieve. Was the issue resolved? No? Did you assign tasks that would resolve the issue? Was the question answered? No? Did you assign someone to find the answer? Was the problem cleared out? No? Did you think of a way the problem can be cleared out?
Basically, there should be results and/or clear steps your team should take to deliver results. That's the way Apple and Google do it.