Meetings remain a necessary part of business. They help employees to coordinate efforts, allow for troubleshooting problems, and infuse creativity into an organization. According to a recent article posted by The Muse, an online career resource, an estimated twenty-five million business meetings occur each day within the United States. These meetings are typically taking up fifteen percent of an organization’s time, and sixty-seven percent of executives consider them unproductive.
Robert Keidel, on his Wharton Magazine blog, proposes that a productive meeting occurs when it focuses on either learning, making decisions, strengthening a team, or creating a forum. If one of these areas is served during a meeting, you’re creating a valuable opportunity to save money, time, and/or energy. Elizabeth Grace Saunders, who also supported this outlook of purposeful meetings in her Harvard Business Review article, Do You Really Need to Hold That Meeting, offered a decision tree to help define when to request a meeting.
Determining the need for a meeting is half of the challenge. However, once scheduled, the method for how you facilitate the meeting determines the success of the event. Without structured facilitation, meetings often dissolve into long, drawn-out gripe sessions or become prolonged deliberations about unrelated topics. A well-facilitated meeting encourages employees to stay organized and could even revitalize them.
If you’re leading a meeting, your role is to maintain the flow and complete the goals set forth. A successful meeting transpires when you, as the facilitator, keep the meeting on time, on track, and relevant. These three elements contribute to the overall success that you, the participants, and your organization as a whole will experience.
The best meetings stay short and are to the point. Try to constrain meetings to less than an hour. Start and end on time, so that you manage expectations. When you communicate and sustain time commitments, you infuse the meeting with authenticity and accountability. It is your responsibility as the facilitator to make sure that you cover the information that needs to be discussed in the allotted timeframe. Suggest a follow-up meeting at a later date or email exchanges, as needed, when a meeting looks like it’s going too long. With today’s available technology, e-mail and/or text can help you to converse before or after the meeting itself, which reduces the actual meeting time required. Meetings that stay on time also help to retain focus within the conversation.
Create an agenda. Before the meeting, email or text the agenda to all attendees to manage expectations for matters of deliberation in the meeting. Identify themes that need to be added or changed before the meeting to see if the new information is pertinent to the discussion. You will help manage expectations and sustain the forward momentum of your meetings when you outline things ahead of time. Then, make sure that the discussion supports the agenda items. As the facilitator, you may need to redirect participants so that they discuss only agenda items. If people want to talk about other topics, suggest that you add them to the next meeting’s agenda, or that they share these thoughts after the meeting.
Maintain appropriate deliberations for each agenda topic. As the facilitator, manage the interchange between all participants. People may want to talk about subjects related to the agenda that do not necessarily impact the result of the matter. For instance, if the topic is about a project timeline, limit the discussion to conversations that will have an influence on the deadline or outcome. Think about the number of hours that are wasted in meetings with prolonged debate that does not contribute to the end goal. Know when to shift the talk or draw it back to the agenda and objectives you’ve set forth. If someone expands the dialogue beyond the goal, suggest that you address the broader area at a later time, so that you stay on track and on time with your meeting. When you are able to maintain the relevancy of the dialogue, you decrease time in the meeting, streamline the exchange, and maintain focus on relevant topics.
Keeping things on time, on track, and relevant will make your meeting efficient and effective. When you manage these three areas, you construct an opportunity for people to coordinate their efforts, you allow for troubleshooting problems, and infuse your organization with a sense of the value of time, which increases productivity. This meeting process also helps to generate a coalition of people who want to work together. Establishing this practice could shift the culture of your organization. Emphasize effective time management and project alignment with this method, and tell us what results you see.