6 Tips for Making Every Meeting Productive

Meetings are often a double edged sword: it can feel difficult to get everyone on the same page without them, but too many or the wrong kind of meetings have a tendency to suck the productivity right out of your team.

Recently Clarizen, a leading company in enterprise work collaboration software, released some interesting findings after they surveyed 2,066 adults about their feelings on status meetings. The overall consensus was that status meetings were found to undermine worker productivity, create unnecessarily lengthy preparation work, and have low engagement by participants, with the majority admitting to multi-tasking during meetings. For the purposes of the survey, a “status meeting” was defined as a meeting with updates for team members on completed and active work tasks only. Strategy, brainstorming, and company planning meetings were not included in this definition.

Those surveyed were found to spend an average of 4.6 hours each week preparing for status meetings and 4.5 hours attending general status meetings. Meaning not only are status meetings creating a lot of prep work, but employees are spending more time preparing for their next meeting than being in the meeting itself.

Almost three in five workers admitted to multitasking during these meetings, and almost half of respondents reported preferring some oddly creative unpleasant activities, including going to the DMV or watching paint dry, to being in status meetings. 35 percent of those surveyed found status meetings to be a waste of time altogether.

Before we go any further, let’s get one thing clear: not all meetings are pointless. In fact, a recent Gallup poll found that a key benefit of meetings was the increased communication it created between employee and manager. Employees whose managers held regular meetings with them were found to be almost three times as likely to be engaged as employees whose managers did not. So the problem isn’t the mere presence of meetings, it’s about the quality of those meetings and a managers ability to make them engaging, productive, and efficient.

With the wealth of technology we now have at our disposal for communicating mundane data about the status of our work, perhaps it’s time to change the intention of our meetings. Next time you’re getting ready to hold a meeting, make sure you do the following.

Focus your energy where you can have the greatest impact.

Before you even think about scheduling a single meeting, you need to have a well-organized idea of what your teams goals and expectations are for the year, quarter, month, etc. Keeping in mind the bigger picture of what is to be accomplished on these scales, how can you best serve those ends? Let’s say you work in HR, and one of your big goals for this year to create a formal performance review process for the entire company. Now let’s say your team has two tasks to focus on right now: (1) your spreadsheet for keeping track of recent hires is outdated and (2) you need to begin researching the kinds of KPI’s that can be used for measuring an employees success. Looking at these, which would you choose to work on right now? If you answered #2, you are correct.

Don’t simply pick any task on your long list of to-do’s, and throw a meeting on the calendar for all to endure. Have an ever-updating list of priorities that feed top-down from your yearly goals, and focus your energy where it will have the most impact on the bigger picture of the company as a whole. In the long run, an outdated spreadsheet isn’t going to hurt anyone. Not putting in the proper amount of research to backup the content of the employee performance reviews you just rolled out company wide? That’s going to hurt (the company, and most likely your employment.)

Have a clear objective.

Remember that every time you hold a meeting, it means that your employees are spending that time away from their primary tasks both during the meeting and in preparation for it. Therefore, they should be gaining something by attending. Meetings held for the sake of relaying the status of work don’t benefit your reports enough to justify the time away from their actual job (especially if you trust them to get their jobs done in the first place.) You need a better reason as to why you’re having a meeting.

Try asking yourself the following questions:

  • What problem are we trying to solve or task are we aiming to tackle during this meeting?
  • What are your realistic goals for what will be accomplished during this meeting?

Only include necessary members.

There’s nothing employees hate more than being invited to a meeting that they sit through without saying a word in and then leave without a single task assigned to them to be accomplished. While you’re setting up your calendar invite getting ready to add attendees, ask yourself this:

  • Who needs to be in this meeting in order for effective action can be taken thereafter?

The smaller the number of attendees the better. Non-essential team-members can be briefed in later as their expertise are needed.

Set an agenda for the meeting.

Within your meeting invitation you should include the following:

  • What you’re going to discuss and what you expect others to come prepared to discuss.
  • An agenda that lays out the flow of what is to be covered and how much time it should take for you and each contributor to share what they are preparing.

Set expectations for after the meeting.

We’ve all been in a meeting that had a lot of great ideas thrown around, only to have no one do any of them before the next meeting roles around. Before the end of each meeting, make sure you know the following:

  • Who’s accountable for what and by when?
  • What metric are we using to measure the success of their execution?
  • When will we be re-convening to discuss and move forward to next steps?

Follow up.

As much as we absorb, even during the most engaging of meetings, half of that flies out the window the second we return to our desk and pick up the tasks we were working on before. It’s not that employees don’t care, it’s just easy to get distracted by the other million things that need to get done day to day. Immediately following your meeting:

  • Send an email recapping what was discussed, what was assigned to each person, and when those action items are due.
  • Set up any additional meetings that are required as these action items are completed by the various members of your team.
  • Ask participants to include anything you may have missed.

This process works wonders for internal and external meetings alike. The more you communicate the purpose and value of your meeting, the better your team will align on expectations, goal setting, and execution.