5 Ways To Make Your Meetings More Productive

I texted my colleague: “do you think we both need to attend the 3pm meeting?” He quickly shot back: “Karin, I don’t think anyone needs to go to that meeting. Don’t worry, I’ll represent both of us.”

And there we were two executives, not speaking up in the spirit of being politically correct, and covering for one another to minimize the pain. After all, we had real work to do.

Sometimes, apparently, I’m also the instigator of such meetings. I attended a meeting the other day and every person in the room was on their iPad working except the speaker and I. I stopped the meeting and questioned what appeared to be very rude behavior.

As I soon uncovered, the rest of the participants had held a dry run of the meeting the day before I arrived in town. Since I was the boss they wanted to practice. This entire meeting had turned into a read-out for me. Those meetings should have been consolidated, or the second meeting should have been cancelled: “Karin, we’ve got this.” Or at least become a one-on-one.

They did have this and didn’t need me. Pre-meetings are often a sign of wasted time. Invest in knowing how much your team is preparing to meet with you. Even if you think you’re low maintenance.

Despite my best efforts to change-up the meetings under my influence, I sometimes succumb, keep my mouth shut, and attend my fair share of time-wasters. That’s why when I received this note from a subscriber, I promised to write a blog response and schedule it up next.

I’ll offer my best thinking and hand it over to the LGL village for additional suggestions:

“I just read your recent post, 5 Ways You’re Sabotaging Teamwork, and was personally touched when you started talking about misuse of staff meetings. It seems all I do is have read-out staff meetings and my staff hates them. But, I like it because the team is together as a whole and they learn what each other is working on and it does stimulate great conversation. However, they still hate them and, honestly, I hate them too. I would love to hear your perspective on how to have high-energy staff meetings. What are my alternatives? What can I do to achieve my goal of getting my 12 member team together weekly but not be a boring mess?

Make Your Meetings More Productive

  1. Cancel The Meeting & Create White Space – Pick one afternoon a week or a month that no one can talk to each other. Or take a regularly scheduled meeting, and just cancel it. See what happens over time. See how work gets done. See Jason Fried’s TED Talk: Why Work Doesn’t Happen at Work.
  2. Make Each Meeting Unique – Even if you hold a regular weekly meeting, have a clearly defined purpose for each meeting that you articulate in advance. For example, by the end of this meeting we will:
    • identify the most important pages for our website
    • review our declining customer service trends and brainstorm 3 key actions to take this month
    • identify the theme and breakouts for our next symposium

    If your answer is read-out on results and progress on action plans cancel the meeting, and find another way.

  3. Ins-and-outs – Decide who needs to be there for which part of the meeting and then design the agenda accordingly. My weekly staff meetings always have a narrowing effect. We started with the larger group and narrowed as the topics move along. I make it clear that this is not to exclude, but a time-saving exercise.
  4. Stand-up Or Walk Among Yourselves – I’ll admit, when results go down, I intervene more. I’m a big believer in the stand-up huddle. Almost like a time-out check in for the day (or week). I think a big problem with meetings as we see them as sit on your butt occasions. Some of the best meetings start with “got a sec?” Try to emulate that feeling as much as possible. As Nilofer Merchant shares in her TED Talk: Fresh Air Drives Fresh Thinking.
  5. Make them think – I love the idea of Idea Tickets from Michael Michalko: “In advance of a meeting, frame a problem or issue to address. Ask each person to bring, at least, one new idea or suggestion about the problem as their ticket of admission to the meeting. Have the people write their ideas on index cards and collect them at the door. No one gets in without a ticket. Start the meeting by reading everyone’s contribution.”

PS: Tune in on Monday and we’ll talk about the most challenging kind of meetings: skip level meetings.

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Posted in Career & Learning, Communication and tagged , , , , , .

Karin Hurt

Karin Hurt, is CEO of Let’s Grow Leaders and a former Verizon Wireless executive. Karin was named on Inc.’s list of 100 Great Leadership Speakers for Your Next Conference, the American Management Association List of 50 Leaders to Watch, and as a Trust Across America Top Thought Leader in Trust. She’s the award-winning author of two books, Winning Well: A Manager’s Guide to Getting Results— Without Losing Your Soul, and Overcoming an Imperfect Boss. She’s regularly featured in business publications including Fast Company, Entrepreneur, and Inc.

25 Comments

  1. 1.Frequent summaries help keep the group focused. “I am sensing we all think the campaign should start next week, it that right?” If the response is “yes,” then move on.

    2. Have a team norm that it is OK for anyone to give the “time out” hand gesture any time he or she thinks we are spinning our wheels. Gives the opportunity for a quick “up scope.”

    3. Always, always – end the meeting on time or early.

  2. Bob, Those are great ones. I learned the frequent summary one the hard way. There’s nothing worse than engaging in a fantastic debate, and then thinking you have closure… only to find that everyone left with their own interpretation. I had one of those situations this year, and each person was off implementing the project in their own way…. I was surprised when I learned through field visits how disconnected our interpretation had been.

  3. I gave up on read-out meetings with my teams since we were all beyond pressed for time and more often than not it was just for me. Instead, I adopted two approaches:

    1) White board meetings. We huddled around and worked on problems, challenges, brainstorming and new programs you name it. At the end everyone had actions and our collective thinking usually progressed.

    2) Huddles (I know you have this above too) Yes, everyone gave a quick update but the bulk of the time was working on specific people’s challenges as a team. Quick, dirty, celebrating wins and solution focused.

    Love many of the suggestions here!

    • Steve, it’s funny you should say that. I hear where you’re coming from. We had actually gone the other way in terms of being “green.” We were all told to view all powerpoints and meeting agendas on our iPads and not to print anything out. Paperless.

  4. Meetings are much more productive when they are short and concise. If everyone knows this will be “30 minutes only, focused on ____________ (topic)”, then everyone is motivated to get their two cents in, be efficient in addressing the issues on the table, and even desirous of having an extended meeting on the subject at another time if things arise that are important enough.

  5. Well, I’m still learning. I hate meetings,and try to keep them short. I always have a written agenda and circulate prior to the meeting asking for input on additions, I do leave opportunity at the end to add something. I’m like Steve, I hate email and txt during the meetings. I haven’t banned them, because often my staff really is responding to time sensitive matters on legal cases.

  6. Karin- this is a very touching post. Truly, entropy says that it is much easier to run a meeting chaotic than to crystallize it into something useful. Meeting must have an objective,
    Karin- please allow me to mention that my next presentation is entitled “Phenomena Race Strategy”. It is a totally new perspective. If this post was published post to my presentation I would have applied this post as one example. RACE comes from: Review, Avoid, Convert and Employ.
    May be I turn this post into a presentation worked example of RACE.

  7. Hey Karin,

    Great post on a needed topic. My contribution is:

    Be clear about who owns the decision and how it will be made. There are only four ways to decide:

    1) Single person (the leader or a delegate)
    2) Group: majority
    3) Group: consensus
    4) Random / Coin flip

    Each of those choices are appropriate in various circumstances, but it cuts down tons of wasted meeting time and emotional energy when everyone understands, from the beginning, how the decision will be made.

    Take care,

    David

  8. Love this article, Karin!

    I had to laugh when I read #4 Stand-up or walk amongst yourselves. My former colleagues and I used to joke about the efficieny of stand-up meetings. It forced us to be on point and pithy…and then Donald Rumsfeld came out with his book and he said that was one of his tactics…no sit down meetings because people got too comfortable while sitting on their butts.

    Actually, it works really well when it’s a smaller group….

  9. Karin, years ago my boss Steve & I were horrified to sit in on weekly hour-long marketing meetings that had “MSU” on the end of every agenda. When asked what that meant, the answer was “oh, we make stuff up to last the whole hour”. Steve & I stopped going, as being in operations we had more urgent things to attend to.

    Great post as always, Karin!

  10. Karin,

    Wonderful points. Having a strong purpose for the meeting and then a way to move toward achieving that purpose are essential. It isn’t about limiting discovery but it is about moving forward in a way that everyone can let their view be expressed and then a decision is made or a next-step defined. We waste way too much time in meetings and we need to ensure there is a clear purpose to each.

    Thanks!

    Jon

  11. Thanks Karin, I love this line “My weekly staff meetings always have a narrowing effect”

    I find that there are usually 3 components to a meeting. Either you’re:
    1) Reviewing – providing an update, giving directions for an activity, etc.
    2) Discussing – actually engaging in an activity, co-creational dialogue, idea generation/exploration, etc. OR
    3) Committing – making a decision either as a group or as an individual

    These often happen throughout a meeting but I find it useful to use as a common language “where are we at with this meeting: reviewing, discussing or committing?” And to evaluate the value of each component as it helps you to achieve your desired outcomes.

  12. Great post! I’ve shared this with my peers and my team. We abuse meeting privileges at my current work place. It’s meeting after meeting – three meetings to prep for the main one. We spend countless hours in unnecessary meetings. We have worked to streamline these meetings and have made some progress. A couple items I’ve been working with my teams is 1) come with an agenda and 2) only schedule the allotted time. If we only need 45 minutes, that is all I schedule. Over the past few months I am beginning to see some improvement in results because it is allowing my teams more time to actually get things done and produce results.

    • Theresa, you raise my biggest pet peeve here…. the meetings to prepare for the meeting. Great adds. Glad to have you extending the conversation.

  13. Great post! I’ve shared this with my peers and my team. We abuse meeting privileges at my current work place. It’s meeting after meeting – three meetings to prep for the main one. We spend countless hours in unnecessary meetings. We have worked to streamline these meetings and have made some progress. A couple items I have been working with my teams is 1) come with an agenda and 2) only schedule the allotted time. If we only need 45 minutes, that is all I schedule. Over the past few months I am beginning to see some improvement in results because it is allowing my teams more time to actually get things done and produce results.

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