“It’s official: you are wasting your life in meetings” begins an article published at Managementtoday.com. The survey interviewed 500 office workers “to find out how many hours are spent in ‘meetings,’ on average, and what percentage of these meetings are actually useful,” The conclusions were eye-opening in that “the average office worker spends around 16 hours in meetings each week (!), and that around a quarter of this time is usually wasted. That’s four hours of pointless meetings every week or a weekly Gone With the Wind screening. Over a year, this works out to more than 200 hours or almost nine full 24-hour days. Over a career, the total is even more alarming with the average worker sitting through around 9,000 hours of needless meetings – a full year and ten days spent twiddling their thumbs.”
Meetings often get a bum rap, as illustrated by these quotes: Jason Fried, Co-founder and President of 37signals, states, “Meetings should be like salt – a spice sprinkled carefully to enhance a dish, not poured recklessly over every forkful. Too much salt destroys a dish. Too many meetings destroy morale and motivation.” Dave Barry, Writer and Popular Humorist, once said, “If you had to identify, in one word, the reason why the human race has not achieved, and never will achieve, its full potential, that word would be ‘meetings.”
Maximizing one’s use of time is important to the success of every organization. Meetings are an essential part of any business. It is true that today many discussions between fellow employees can be done through email. Although that does not mean that meetings are obsolete. If you want to communicate among multiple employees when more discussion is required, meetings are usually the more efficient and productive way to proceed. Some meetings are informational, some are get-acquainted, and some call for genuine decisions.
Leading a successful and productive meeting requires preparation. The following are eight key elements to ensuring a successful meeting:
1. State the objective. It is necessary to have a purpose when calling a meeting. Without a purpose, people will feel there is no reason to meet. It is essential that a clearly defined reason be given so that people will not believe that their valuable time is being wasted. Also, sure to project a positive attitude about the meeting.
2. Have an agenda. A printed agenda is given to each participant at Tuchman Advisory Group meetings. The clearer the agenda, the more clarity will result during the meeting. Remember, it is the job of the person calling the meeting to plan and execute the meeting. Do not delegate the planning to another team member or administrative assistant. Do not pack too much into the agenda. Allow time for open discussion and if the meeting concludes early, end it.
3. Who is attending? It is important to be sure that key players are present. You want those attending to be on the same track and equipped to participate in a full and formal manner. Everyone should have the opportunity to state their own viewpoints on the key issues being discussed. Be sure not to let any one person dominate the meeting, try to encourage less-active team members to participate. Questions raised during the meeting will encourage expanded discussions.
4. Provide materials in advance. This will insure that participants are prepared to engage in a meaningful discussion. Doing advance preparation, which you convey to your employees, will go a long way to making the meeting a success. Surprises may emerge from the meeting; however, the basic direction should be pre-determined.
5. Meeting leader. You must be prepared, articulate, and directed so that the meeting will proceed in a positive and productive fashion. It is essential that you be able to direct all aspects of the meeting to a successful conclusion. If you choose not to personally lead, it is imperative that you choose a substitute who is clear on the purpose of the meeting. An ineffective person presiding will probably result in a failed meeting.
6. Check the technology. Be sure to test the technology so that it is working properly before the start of the meeting. It is common that problems may occur, for example, with conference-call technology or audio-visual equipment. It is frustrating for the leader and participants when meetings are delayed due to equipment malfunctions. It is important to check and double-check.
7. Decide the logistics. There should be a point-person who coordinates all of the logistics. The first step is to choose a meeting location. It should be comfortable, able to easily accommodate the number of people attending. The meeting costs should be within your budget, and the location have adequate lighting. There are many details that need to be decided well in advance. These necessities include: ordering food/refreshments, supplies, audiovisual equipment, seating style, name tags, scheduled breaks, etc. A smooth-running meeting means fewer distractions, and therefore a more successful outcome.
8. After the meeting. Distribute meeting notes or minutes to all team members, which insures that if anyone has questions or comments about what went on they can ask. It is imperative that you follow up with designated employees on items that require action. Distributing meeting evaluation surveys to attendees are an option. As Lee Clow, Chairman and Global Director of TBWA/Worldwide, has commented, “Actions speak louder than meetings.”
There are things you can do to make your meetings more interesting. Dan McCarthy, Leadership and Management Consultant, offers these suggestions:
• Invite guest speakers
• Celebrate something
• Conduct a “learning roundtable” – have team members take turn teaching each other something
• Watch a quick TED Talk relevant to the meeting agenda
• Run a team-building activity
• Vary locations (consider taking the meeting off-site)
• Offer some fun or interesting food
• Have a “single-item agenda” meeting
• Ask for lightning-round updates
• Engage the team in brainstorming
• Switch chairs; switch anything to break up the monotony.
Building team spirit within your organization is essential. Remember, it is a privilege to get together and work with your employees. You want to use this valuable opportunity to organize a meeting that your staff will learn from, enjoy, and even look forward to attending.
When all is said and done and when the next meeting notice is sent, you do not want your team members to say to themselves, “Oh no, not another meeting!”