Let me guess – right now, your inbox is flooded with emails and your to-do list is a mile long. Worst yet, you’re reading this article because you’ve been distracted for the umpteenth time today and can’t get to your work because you’re about to go into yet another back-to-back meeting. Unfortunately, I can’t fix the former, but I can help with the later.
Research gathered by Atlassian found that employees on average attend 62 meetings a month, half of which felt “ineffective”. Furthermore, 91% reported daydreaming during meetings, 73% reported doing other work, and a whopping 39% reported even sleeping during a meeting.
Clearly, the majority of us are doing meetings all wrong, simply wasting time and keeping us from focusing on our actual work. Consider how your last meeting went. How many attended? How expensive do you think that meeting was? Was it worth the time and money? I’m guessing no (or you wouldn’t have clicked on this article).
If you want your company to create a culture of productivity, you must begin by bringing awareness to blind spots in how employees conduct and participate in meetings.
Let me illustrate with a quick story.
I was in the fourth grade when I had my first life-changing meeting. Mr. Jennings was a man to be feared and respected. He was the type of teacher who yelled every time you ran down the hall and berated those who had forgotten homework. At the end of the year, Mr. Jennings pulled three classrooms of boys into one room. He was there to give us the weird teenager “talk”. Basically, we all stunk. We were literally a smelly group of kids. My mom said that when I got home, I immediately requested deodorant and cologne, and began taking two showers a day.
Looking back, Mr. Jennings’ meeting was a productive one for checking off these four ground rules for productive meetings:
1. To keep meetings to the point and valuable, Define the Objective of the meeting both prior to and at the beginning of each meeting.
Mr. Jennings knew what type of meeting he was holding. It had an objective – these boys stink and they need to do something about it. As shown, meetings also have a cost – the outcome of the meeting should outweigh the cost of having it. In Mr. Jennings case, it sourly did (pun intended). In general, productive meetings should add value to your business.
An example of a meeting objective may be operational, bringing awareness to opportunities and issues within the scope of a project or department/company focus. Another may be deliberate, to discuss the question at hand. Value will come in the form of a concrete decision. You may also hold creative meetings, used as a collaborative effort to bring various ideas and viewpoints together for an end product that will benefit consumers.
Author, consultant, and business communications expert Rob Kendall explains that the best way to determine an objective is to work backwards not forward: “First get clear on purpose and outcomes, and then figure out how to make them happen” (Kendall, 2016).
Ask… [a.] What’s the purpose of the meeting? [b.] What are the intended outcomes and defined wins? [c.] Whose meeting is it?
2. To keep meetings productive, attendees should Meet Responsibly.
Meetings should be created with the value in mind, carried out with responsibilities in place, and completed with deadlines administered. In order to achieve this, two roles must exist in every meeting, that of a meeting coordinator and meeting attendees.
The Meeting Coordinator should take full responsibility for ensuring the discussion is worthy of its participants’ time. They should also be responsible for defining objectives, what information or content is needed, timekeeping and ensuring tasks are assigned and completed.
The Meeting Attendees should take full responsibility for being prompt, showing up prepared, and leaving with either their task completed or an action plan to complete the task.
These roles were well defined in the case of Mr. Jennings and the fourth-grade boys. Alas, not all the boys completed their tasks as diligently as I did, but that’s another lesson for another day.
3. To keep meeting attendees engaged, Remove Distractions.
My all-boys meeting in grade school had the privilege of being technology-free, due to the absence of cell phones and laptops in that time (shocking I know). While that’s more difficult to come by today, it’s just as important to keeping everyone on the same page. Technology should only be used for the purpose of the meeting itself.
Assign pre-meeting “homework” to prepare the attendees mentally for the discussion—give them a chance to come prepared for an engaged productivity session.
4. To keep meetings practical, Consider Time Limits.
I probably don’t need to tell you all that was said in Mr. Jennings class meeting, but I will tell you that what was said was short and impactful. Enough so that I made immediate hygienic steps to rectify the issue.
Neuroscientific research shows that cognitive overload and memory retention issues begin to rise after 20 minutes of content. That’s why the influential TED Talks from expert speakers have a limit of 18 minutes. Interesting Fact: Astronomer David Christian gave a TED Talk covering the history of the universe and the earth’s place in it in 17 minutes and 40 seconds.
Schedule meetings for proper allotment of time, meet on time, and plan for buffer time between meetings to address run-over issues and to ensure promptness to the next meeting.
Finally, and certainly an oxymoron, it may be worth your time to have a meeting about meetings. Maybe then, you and your colleagues can meet less often or for a smaller amount of time, but more productively – freeing up time for you to get back to those emails and start slashing through that to-do list!
Best of luck in your back-to-back meetings today. We could all use some.