Meetings have a bad rep. Many of us feel like we have to attend too many, that go on for too long, often with no clear purpose.
Worst of all, they frequently don’t actually achieve anything. To avoid having meetings for meetings’ sake, here are seven steps you can take to have more productive – and ultimately – more enjoyable meetings.
- Set an agenda
To avoid wasting time it is vital to know what you will be discussing. Send out an agenda prior to the meeting detailing exactly what will be covered and what the key objectives are. Ask participants to come to the meeting equipped with any ideas, questions or points they would like to make.
You should also make it clear how much time will be devoted to the discussion of each agenda item, so people are encouraged to focus their attention and stick to the point. This should lead to much more useful discussions in a short period of time.
- Implement the “two pizza” rule
Too many people all trying to have their say can lead to chaos. Follow the lead of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, who developed a strategy to ensure discussions don’t become bloated and to nurture independent ideas over group thinking.
Bezos instituted, as a company-wide rule, the concept of the “two-pizza team”—that is, any team should be small enough that it could be fed with two pizzas.
You can apply the same logic to your meetings – you don’t need every man and his dog, just the key people. Keep the numbers down and the meeting lean – with the “two pizza” rule, that’s around four to six people, depending on how hungry they are!
- Set a timer for 30 minutes
According to one study, the average company meeting goes on for one hour 19 minutes, however they stop becoming effective long before that.
On average, managers tune out after 52 minutes, but the younger generation have an even shorter attention span – just 45 minutes for managers aged below 35.
To ensure everyone is alert, listening and being an active member of the meeting, try keeping meetings to just 30 minutes. Additionally, set a time to remind everyone of the time limitations – an egg timer that visually illustrates the seconds ticking away is perfect!
As well as preventing the meeting from dragging on, the psychological effect of the timer introduces an element of light ‘stress’, which can actually help meeting participants be more creative and effective. Just remember, when the buzzer goes, the meeting is over.
- Meet standing up
Another way to keep your meeting short and to the point is to meet standing up. The idea is that people will become uncomfortable standing up and therefore won’t ramble on, however there are said to be other benefits to this meeting format too.
Andrew Knight and Markus Baer of Washington University conducted a study on stand-up meetings versus sit-down meetings, and found standing up boosts excitement, collaboration and creativity.
The study asked participants to work together in teams for 30 minutes to develop and record a university recruitment video. One team worked in a room with chairs, while the other only had a table. All the participants wore sensors around their wrists to measure “physiological arousal”.
Knight and Baer found that the teams who stood had greater physiological arousal and were also less protective of their ideas. This led to more information sharing and higher quality videos.
- Walk and talk
Another study has suggested that you should not only stand during meetings, but walk as well. Published in Harvard Business Review, the study found that walk-and-talk participants were 8.5% more likely to report high levels of engagement.
Additionally, those who participate in walking meetings were 5.25% more likely to report being creative at their jobs than those who do not.
Other advantages to walking meetings are exercise and fresh air for employees and the existence of a natural end point i.e. take a walk around the block and the meeting is over once you arrive back at the office. The only disadvantage is the limitations around numbers – any more than three people and it’s likely to get a bit tricky.
- Implement a “parking space”
With a time-limited meeting it’s vital to keep everyone on-topic and make sure you only discuss the matters at hand. At the same time, you don’t want to ignore important points or good ideas which might not be directly related.
The way to do both is by creating a “parking space” where anything off-agenda can be stored – essentially a separate list. That way, if discussions wander off course, you can just say, “Good point, I’m making a note of it and we can address it afterwards/at the next meeting”.
- End the meeting with action items
Never end a meeting without allocating tasks to the participants – making individuals directly accountable is how to ensure things get done.
Apple even has an acronym for this concept: DRI (Directly Responsible Individual). In a 2011 feature investigating the tech giant’s culture, Fortune reporter Adam Lashinsky explained Steve Jobs “accountability mindset”. He reported that all meetings at Apple had an action list and next to each action item would be the DRI.
In a fast paced, fast growth environment, with tons of activity, this process ensured that nothing important got left on the table and undoubtedly helped Apple to become one of the most successful companies on earth – could it work for yours?
Meetings don’t have to be a waste of time. Be clear on objectives, get the right people involved, set a time limit and conclude with actionable tasks.
When people know there’s a point to a meeting, that it’s relevant to their job role and won’t take up an entire morning, they’re more likely to want to attend!