When most of us review our to-do list in the morning, we see two different categories on our calendars—the meetings and “the real work.” And that’s a shame. Because there are few things more valuable than bringing talented, motivated people together in one room. Here are some simple tips that can help you look forward to those meetings rather than dread them.
Have an agenda and stick to it. The worst meetings get that way because there is no agenda. Whether it’s a standing meeting used to provide updates on a project, or a meeting called for a specific purpose, plot out 3-5 key items to be discussed. Then send the agenda and relevant materials to attendees at least 24 hours in advance, so the conversation can start as soon as everyone takes a seat.
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Get the right people in the room. The goal of most meetings is to resolve some important questions, have a discussion and move toward a decision. (Simple information-sharing should be done via email.) Without the decision-makers in the room, there’s no point in meeting. If you know that one or two key players are particularly busy, approach them in person and let them know how much you value their input, then offer to work around their schedules.
Start on time. The next time you’re in a meeting, estimate the collective salaries of everyone in the room. A small meeting with only five employees earning $40,000 costs your organization $100 an hour; most meetings cost a lot more. Keep that in mind the next time you’re waiting for someone who’s chronically late, at the expense of everyone else in the room.
Keep it short. Too many meetings are scheduled for an hour, as if a 15-minute meeting doesn’t justify the walk to the conference room. Start scheduling shorter meetings, and see how much more quickly things move. Some Silicon Valley firms have even changed the meaning of the term “standing meeting” by removing all the chairs from their conference rooms—a move that makes those rambling monologues a lot less frequent. Worried you’ve got too much to cover? Schedule a series of shorter meetings at key intervals.
Stay on track. If the conversation starts to veer from the key points, step in and gently remind people of the next point on the agenda. Worried about interrupting someone above your pay grade? Phrase it as a question: “Do we have time to discuss this here, given the other items we still need to cover?” If a particularly sticky item requires further discussion, suggest that two or three people meet separately to iron out the details, then report their conclusions to the group later.
Plot out next steps. Close the meeting with action items. Wrap up by summarizing the to-do’s, then identify a person for each task, a deadline, and a time to reconvene. Afterwards, send around a quick email re-stating those expectations for those who missed the meeting, so there’s no confusion about who promised what.
Even if you’re not the organizer of a particular meeting, don’t let that dissuade you from requesting the agenda, reminding people to stay on task, or asking about next steps. Most meeting organizers should appreciate the nudge, and everyone in the room will appreciate the results.
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