“He (Warren Buffett) doesn’t let his calendar get filled up with useless meetings.”- Bill Gates

In my forty years of work, I always complained about long, boring and unproductive meetings, so join the club! Yes, old style meetings have negative effects on morale, productivity and motivation.

So, why can’t meetings be shorter, more productive and even, dare I say it, fun? The good news is that many companies are now leading the way in managing their meetings. Here are 12 secrets that they are using successfully. If you are a manager or team leader, you may want to implement these. If you are a member of a team, you can always make suggestions so that meetings really can become super productive.

1. Time is not the real issue

“Manage your energy, not your time.” – Tony Schwartz

Most people complain that they have not enough time and meetings can rob them of this precious commodity. Another way of looking at it is to simply concentrate on the energy levels you have. Plan in breaks so that productivity levels are kept at the maximum.

2. Make meetings shorter

Setting a time limit of 10 or 15 minutes can really help. Some managers actually get a timer so that it goes off when the meeting is finished. It is no accident that TED talks have a maximum limit of 18 minutes. The reason is that all the research shows that our attention span goes into a progressive decline, if meetings or talks last longer. Studies done at Texas Christian University show that students remember more information after shorter classes.

3. Plan meetings when needed

Most companies have a set time and day for meetings. This means that productivity is slowed down, just because of a set schedule. It is much better to meet when things need to get done, decisions made, and action points finalized.

4. Meet standing up or somewhere else

“But wherever you are, be innovative with your space. Try a stand-up meeting, or leave the desks and head to the park. Get out of your everyday environment.”- Richard Branson

There is some very interesting research which shows that sitting down increases the territorial issues. People feel comfortable and also want to assert their position or authority. This is not so easily done when standing up. Participants feel less at ease and want to get things done more quickly. There are other innovative ways of having meetings.

5. Plan the agenda in advance

A short meeting still needs an agenda and this should be circulated before the meeting, if possible. It helps people to prepare and focus on the issues that needs to be discussed.

6. Create a smartphone free zone

Ask people about their colleagues using smartphones or tablets during meetings. The majority resents this as it shows a lack of respect and also displays that full participation is patchy or absent. It is much better to make the meeting area a smart phone free zone and encourage people to leave phones outside in a basket, with post its attached. The White House is already doing this.

7. Limit the number of attendees

This is one of the recommendations mentioned in Kristen Gil’s post, ‘Start-Up Speed’. She is VP of Business Operations at Google. If you limit the attendees to those directly involved in a project or procedure, it leaves the others more time to get on with their work.

8. Run the meeting like a clockwork

Chairing a meeting is a really skilful task. Ideally, you need to do some or all of the following:

  • State the purpose of the meeting, e.g. – “We are meeting today to finalize the auditors’ visit”.
  • Keep off-topic interventions off the agenda. They can be put in the ‘parking lot’ if there is time at the end.
  • Encourage everybody to pitch in.
  • Discourage the show-offs.
  • Stick to the time allocated.

9. Take away action points

The person running the meeting has to keep the whole thing on track, within the short time span. In practice this means that at the end, people have a list of action points and that these are tagged to the DRI (Directly Responsible Individual).

10. Allow transit time

Make sure that enough time is programmed in before the meeting so that people can actually get there on time. Allowing ten minutes before and after other engagements helps people to get their act together and plan their absence, even though it is a very short one. A record is kept of the decisions and these can be emailed as reminders to all participants.

11. Outline outcomes and plan for next meeting

Assuming that the action points will produce the necessary results, it is always a good idea to outline what the next meeting should cover. This does not need to be set in stone but should fit in with the business and marketing plans. It also helps to highlight long term objectives.

12. Encourage meeting skills training

Delegating some meeting tasks both before and during the meeting is a great way to approach meeting skills training. Decide who will be responsible for noting down action points, timing, and agendas. This can be done in rotation so that you will still have overall responsibility for running the meeting.

Let us know how you successfully cope with meetings in the comments below.

Featured photo credit: DS Meetings at HQ/ Jim Larrison via flickr.com

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