At any company, meetings are essential for sharing ideas, building consensus and, above all, getting business done.
Everybody’s time is valuable, so when you call a meeting — whether it’s a formal sit-down meeting or a quick huddle in the hallway — it is imperative to make the most of that time. However, many businesses fail to do that, eating into their employees’ productive time with unproductive meetings that don’t drive results.
Here some red flags that your meetings are wasting your team’s time, and how to address them.
- Your meetings lack an agenda or stated purpose. Even informal brainstorming sessions need a stated purpose. If a full agenda isn’t practical, at the very least, everyone present should have a clear idea of what needs to be accomplished by meeting’s end. The leader should set expectations at the start of the meeting and identify the key takeaways everyone should walk away with.
- Your meetings lack a leader. Someone should act as the point person for the group, charged with defining the meeting’s purpose, writing an agenda when appropriate and ensuring that the meeting starts and ends on time. And “someone” should be taken literally — as in, a single point person. If you manage your meetings by committee, no one person is really in charge.
- Your meetings become lectures. This happens when one person does the majority of the talking and doesn’t try to facilitate a dialogue. It’s not enough to simply ask if there are questions — you need to call on specific people and ask for their input. If your meetings consist of a lecture, followed by silence when you open the floor to questions, you run the risk of a disengaged team. Disengaged team members often feel like their voices aren’t being heard, and that leads to a “pocket veto” culture, in which team members come to a meeting, nod in agreement, leave and carry on as if nothing happened. Active, real-time engagement is the antidote.
- Your meetings don’t produce actionable items. Discussions are just hot air until you attach actions to them — and those actions need specific deadlines. If you define three actionable items by the end of a meeting, make sure the people responsible for those items know what they need to do and when they need it done by. “Get me the report soon” is too ambiguous. A better approach is, “Get me a draft of the report that includes these items, and I need it by Friday.” Get specific, and be clear on when things are due.
- You don’t solicit feedback on your meetings. Meetings take people away from their jobs for a set period — if they’re discussing work, they’re not working. That means meetings have a payroll and productivity cost. You need to know if your meetings are worth that cost to your employees, and to your company. That’s why you need to solicit feedback. It might be worth the time to compile a survey for larger, formal meetings. For smaller meeting, a quick email may be sufficient. However you do it, ask your people whether they found the meeting productive, and if not, how to make it better next time.
Pete Honsberger is the director of client services at CultureShoc. If you need assistance on how to create effective meetings, contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.