How to make sure Meetings don’t become a Waste of Time

Despite an ever-growing selection of communication channels available at our disposal, meetings remain the most effective method of getting things done. When managed properly, the amount of work that can get done in one single meeting is enormous. Yet, if mismanaged meetings can consume a tremendous amount of time and energy, and practically lead the group nowhere near a productive outcome.

Meetings capture it all; the content, your body language, your tone of voice, and invaluable feedback and diversified points of view. Phone calls communicate your tone of voice which helps, but signals you communicate through body language are lost. Email loses both and therefore needs to be handled very carefully as the receiving end may easily misinterpret your intentions or message.

So what can you do to make sure you capitalize on all the benefits face to face meetings offer but don’t end up unnecessarily consuming precious time?

Schedule meetings way ahead of time

There are always cases when quick and sudden ad-hoc meetings are necessary, but the majority of meetings can be anticipated well in advance. The organizer can as such provide invitees with sufficient lead time to minimize scheduling conflicts. Sudden meetings not only irritate participants, but they also leave little time to prepare adequately for productive contribution and input.

Use a scheduling tool

Most digital calendars we’ve come across incorporate a function that lets the organizer invite individuals to a meeting, and then reports on who confirmed, declined, and remains pending. Some go the extra mile and allow the organizer to specify mandatory or optional attendances. And the best ones let the organizer send follow-up messages to sub-groups (i.e. pending invitations) to remind them to confirm (or decline), or share materials that are useful for preparation purposes otherwise. Look into the functions and features your particular system has, and use all it has to offer.

Set an agenda and stick to it

When meeting to discuss one or several specific topics, it’s easy to deviate and end up discussing everything but the matters you’re actually meeting for. This results in a follow-up meeting becoming necessary as you haven’t really finished your business. To avoid this from happening, circulate an agenda in advance to all participants and ask them to add any further items they wish to include. Then, when the meeting starts, work off the agenda and don’t allow any additions unless there’s time left.

Allocate time slots for items

Having several people around the table with different opinions can easily result in one topic becoming excessively discussed. The result is usually one or two topics having been over-deliberated, and another 3-4 topics being untouched. Again, a follow-up meeting is now necessary. Depending on the number and depth of the topics you have on your agenda, assign a time-slot for each and stick to that. Once time is up, you need to wrap up and move the group into the next topic. If necessary, assign a dedicated time keeper who is tasked with keeping an eye on the clock and ending a discussion when the allocated time for that has ended.

Be specific about the outcomes you seek

When starting a topic with a brief description, state clearly what outcomes you need now. This will make sure you actually reach decisions and don’t end up talking about something with no concrete ending to it. So for example, you may start a topic by saying “we’re discussing now Sami’s proposal of moving our back office support team to a lower rent location. I’ll ask Sami to brief you about his rationale, and also invite Haya to elaborate on why she’s opposing the idea. Once we’ve heard the points of view from both, we have ten minutes to discuss and agree on what we’ll do next. Either way though, we need to decide here and now whether we’re moving or back office support location or not.

Follow-up with meeting minutes and to-do lists

People have a lot on their plates, and remembering what has been discussed, concluded, and agreed on becomes a challenge. This is especially the case with directors who serve on multiple boards and have several meetings each week. To avoid important matters from falling between the cracks, you should have someone (other than the person who is running the meeting) take notes, and then circulate meeting minutes to all who attended. That should include a list of the subjects discussed, the decisions reached, and a detailed action plan with what needs to happen next, by when, and by whom.

Get rid of those annoying mobile phones, tablets, and laptops

More often than not, you’ll see a bunch of people sitting in a meeting and being busy working their gadgets rather than paying attention to what’s being said and discussed. Now this is the ultimate waste of time; not only are these people missing out on the discussion, but the same has to be most probably repeated once they are done with their “important business” as their input is really needed (otherwise they wouldn’t need to be in the meeting). The same goes for people answering phone calls in the middle of meetings. To avoid this from happening, ask your attendees to put their gadgets on silence and turn them upside down so they won’t get all fidgety once the screen lights up to indicate an incoming message. They probably won’t like it, but hey, it’s for the greater good.

If you’ve been planning and attending meetings long enough, you probably have a few tips to add to this topic. Please feel free to share your thoughts with us in the comment box below; we’d love to hear from you 🙂

About the Author

Pinnacle Business & Marketing Consulting is a results-driven boutique consulting firm that specializes in providing clients with practical and pragmatic solutions to their business and marketing challenges.

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