A guide to productive meetings

A phrase I hear a lot lately is “Zoom meetings.” A few weeks ago, a colleague mentioned they had back to back online meetings all day and as such couldn’t do anything else. What annoyed him was not having to attend so many meetings but the fact that most of those meetings were in his words “useless.”

COVID-19 forced people to adapt to new ways of working. Teams could no longer meet in person. This led to a spike in online meetings. However, if you are in back to back meetings 3 days a week, your productivity is going to suffer. When will you have time to work on those action items (action items are being assigned at the end of those meetings, I hope?)

Are your meetings ending on a happy note?

The key to making a meeting productive is to follow a few simple rules. These rules work just as well for the offline sort as they do for online.

Know what the meeting is for

A productive meeting is one that is called for a specific purpose such as making a decision or resolving conflict between team members that is affecting productivity. It ends with action items clearly assigned to attendees with due dates. If the reason you wish to call a meeting is simply to provide an update, consider making it an FYI email instead. Those who need more information can reach out to you afterwards.

Know who to invite

The ideal size for a productive meeting seems to be about 5 people. This allows for a healthy exchange of ideas without communication breaking down due to having too many opinions (or poor internet connection). Consider why you want someone in a meeting before you send them an invite. Ibrahim from accounting has no business being in your meeting to discuss the revision to the banner for your next event. Leave him out of it. He has other things he should be doing and won’t thank you for wasting his time.

Don’t block people from doing important work

Start and finish on time

Productive meetings have clear start and finish times. Do not wait for others to join. I have attended 1-hour meetings where 15 minutes were spent waiting for latecomers. This is disrespectful to those who blocked out time on their calendars and joined early. Start the meeting as soon as it is time. Do not stop people from joining late but do not backtrack for them either. You want to create a culture where people can trust your meetings will begin and end when you say they will. Once it’s 5 minutes to finish time, assign action items and move any unresolved agenda items to a subsequent meeting.

Stick to the agenda

Do you even have an agenda? Create one and share it with all attendees in advance. Make sure your agenda states how long each item will be discussed. Ruthlessly stick to them and prevent one item taking up too much of your time. If there are materials such as presentations or reports, send them at least a day before so the team has time to review them and come prepared with their questions or comments. It will make the discussion faster.

Don’t have an agenda? Don’t even dare call a meeting

Take minutes

It is crucial that someone be assigned to take minutes during a meeting. This person should share the minutes as soon as possible after a meeting. This ensures attendees have a record of what was discussed and who is responsible for each action point.

There you have it. 5 simple rules. Do you think your meetings will be more productive if you adopt them? Feel free to share your thoughts.

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