“Sometimes I spend whole meetings wondering how they got the big meeting table through the door.”

Meetings are the scourge of the efficient work day.

You know the drill – “Can we grab a quick 5 minutes here to chat about this together?”

What that actually means is – “Can we take you from your busy work day and say things in another, generally larger room for a lot more time than we need to?”

Wikipedia defines a meeting as “two or more people coming together to discuss one or more topics, often in a formal setting”. Not only is this one the most generic descriptions in the history of describing a word, but it highlights how meetings are broken – a formal encounter where people in the room speak about specific topics on a general level, most of the time wondering when the event will be over.

Why most meetings don’t work

There are such great intentions when setting up a meeting for a team. This will be a place where we can sort out everything, from the work week ahead to a possible issue that needs to be resolved. What’s the downside to that?

Samuel Johnson said it best: “Hell is paved with good intentions.”

Fundamentally, meetings fall down for a few reasons:

  • There’s no agenda to follow.
  • Not everyone in the room needs to be there.
  • Those present are not prepared for the meeting.
  • The event lasts too long.
  • Ideas and opinions are not communicated well enough.
  • Not everyone feels they can talk in that setting.

More on that last point – depending on the type of boss you have, sometimes managers can be intimidating without even knowing it (or they do, and they’re terrible human beings). A lot of people are eager to get on with their job, and if they have something to add to a meeting, they should be given the time and space to do so. Let your staff speak and have an opinion – you’re paying them for their expertise.

But meetings can be useful

I’m not saying that you should never have meetings.

Sometimes meetings are a great opportunity for catchups with team members and making sure everyone is on the same page when working on a project. The intent for a great meeting is always there – but it’s important to remain focused on the objective.

You should use that focus to evaluate how you conduct those meetings and what happens before and after. Does the meeting need to be booked into a large room where you call in everyone in a team for an hour? We need to shift our priority from the meeting itself, to what we want out of it. Everyone in a meeting should walk away with something useful. Get what you need to know – get out.

Tips for better meetings

  • Keep them short – a meeting that lasts over an hour is not going to be productive.
  • Set an agenda and have one person use that agenda to keep the meeting moving and focussed.
  • Everyone should have the freedom to speak.
  • Prepare beforehand.
  • Don’t allow one person to control the meeting – that’s what lectures are for.
  • Have someone write minutes of the meeting for review afterwards.
  • Explore alternatives of meeting – video chat, IM and communication tools like Basecamp and Slack are great ways of cutting down on the requirement to meet.
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