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Anatomy of a Successful Meeting: 7 Tips to Use Everyone’s Time Wisely

Topics: Work Culture

Meetings, as a general rule, are unpopular. A Harris Poll sponsored by the online collaboration company Clarizen, found that 46 percent of employees would rather do almost anything than attend one. Eight percent even said they’d prefer having a root canal to attending a status meeting.

Why are meetings so reviled? The answer might just lie in another statistic from the Clarizen study. Three out of five of the workers surveyed reported that they multitask during status meetings. Additionally, 60 percent said that it takes more time to prepare for meetings than it does to actually attend them.

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Meetings are often unpopular because they’re seen as a waste of time.

Perhaps that why meetings are often more appealing to people who keep a “manager’s schedule.”

Workers who are in positions of leadership often view their workday as a series of hourly blocks. Employees, on the other hand, break their day down by thinking about the tasks that need to be accomplished. So, it’s not a big deal for a manger to pencil a meeting into one of her blocks. But, someone else might resent having to take the time away from their to-dos to attend one.

“Don’t your spirits rise at the thought of having an entire day free to work, with no appointments at all?” Graham wrote in his 2009 post, Maker’s Schedule, Manager’s Schedule (via The New York Times). “Well, that means your spirits are correspondingly depressed when you don’t.”

Good meetings have a purpose:

successful meetings

Given the fact that many view meetings as a waste of time, a good meeting is just the opposite. They have a purpose.

Meetings shouldn’t just pop up on the schedule because it’s “time to have a meeting.” Weekly or monthly status meetings, for example, probably have objectives that can be accomplished in other ways. Can collaborative software allow the team to connect? Can updates be exchanged via email rather than through a status meeting? If so, it might make sense to consider making the switch.

Every time you hold a meeting, there should be a defined reason or purpose for doing so. HR Bartender says there are only a few good reasons to hold a business meeting; to convey information to a group (as needed, not on a regular basis), to facilitate discussion or to brainstorm in order to make decisions, and to network. Most other objectives can be satisfied in another way.

Is this meeting really necessary?

successful meetings

So, before scheduling your next meeting, ask yourself, is this really necessary? Here are a few quick ways to tell:

  • Remember that meetings are time multipliers. If you hold an hour-long meeting with 11 attendees, that’s actually an 11-hour meeting. So, ask yourself, is this meeting important enough to take up that kind of time?
  • Eliminate routine/regular meetings. Meetings should have a purpose — and “it’s Thursday at 4 p.m., the time when we have a meeting” isn’t a good enough one.
  • Ask yourself whether or not the purpose of your meeting can be accomplished via email or collaborative software. If so, opt for that mode instead.
  • Be sensitive to the fact that “managers and makers” use their time differently. Ask yourself whether or not this is the best way for everyone to use the hour.
  • Double-check your attendee list to be sure that everyone you’re inviting really needs to be there. If their attendance isn’t absolutely necessary, allow them to sit this one out.

Now that you’ve taken the time to rethink some big picture ideas about your meeting, you’re ready to get down to the nitty-gritty of the planning.

Here are a few tips for having more useful and more successful meetings:

1. Provide an agenda

Providing meeting attendees with a brief agenda accomplishes a few crucial things. First, it supports focus and engagement. Following along helps to keep everyone on track and on topic. They might even take notes in the margins if you leave them enough room. Also, handing out an agenda before a meeting, or even when it starts, helps to keep conversations moving.

The agenda doesn’t have to be complicated or take a lot of time to prepare. In fact, it should be simple. Just write down a few bullet points that outline your plans for the meeting. Leave space between agenda items for people to use at their discretion. Maybe they’ll take notes or record action items. Be sure to include the date and time of your meeting (start and stop) at the top.

Email the agenda out in advance and bring extra copies to the meeting as a backup for people to grab. And remember, you’re providing this agenda to be helpful. Your attendees should feel free to use them, or not, as they see fit.

2. Think about timing

It’s easy to understand why meetings can be frustrating to people when they see them as time wasters. So, think carefully about when to schedule your meeting in order to minimize this issue. Don’t meet with a team right before they have a big deadline, for example.

Science has weighed in on this topic. Researchers have found that, as a general rule, the best time for a meeting is Tuesdays at 2:30 p.m. Meeting at this time allows everyone to get into the workweek unimpeded. And, it allows individuals to have the morning to themselves. (Avoiding scheduling a meeting too early in the day is another tip that emerged from this research. People like to get a head start on their to-dos.)

3. Establish roles and rules

successful meetings

Your meetings will run more smoothly if everyone knows, right out of the gate, what’s expected of them. Do you want to hold a discussion here or are you just providing attendees with information? Do you want participants to brainstorm ideas or are you asking them to come up with a plan of action?

Establishing ground rules helps meetings run smoothly. And, it helps participants to appreciate their own value within the meeting. They’ll contribute more often, and more meaningfully, when clear expectations for participation have been established.

4. Have fun

When you’re the one running a meeting, you are also the person who’s responsible for setting the tone. So, try to enjoy yourself. It will help others to do the same.

You should be able to relax a little knowing that you’ve made the appropriate preparations and that you are all set to run a successful and useful meeting. Your confidence will help others to put their trust in you, too.

Have fun at the meeting. Enjoy yourself and enjoy the company of your colleagues. Remember to smile and laugh and express gratitude for others’ contributions along the way.

[click_to_tweet tweet=”According to research, Tuesdays are the best days for meetings. Book your calendars accordingly.” quote=”According to research, Tuesdays are the best days for meetings. Book your calendars accordingly.”]

5. Sit in a circle

If you just want to talk at the meeting, and have everyone else listen, you might not need to have a meeting at all. Can you send an email instead? Or, maybe label it a brief presentation rather than a meeting?

Meetings are most useful for times when you want a bunch of people to participate in a conversation or in some type of decision-making process. In these cases, do everything you can to encourage collaboration and participation.

Science has found that sitting in a circle is one of the best ways to accomplish this. And, it also helps to promote a positive company culture. (Workers who feel valued have higher job satisfaction and they’re more loyal, too.)

“The geometric shape of a seating arrangement can act as a subtle environmental cue for people by priming their fundamental need for inclusiveness and individuality,” said Professor Juliet Zhu of the UBC Sauder School of Business, when discussing her research on round table arrangements in a piece on the school’s website.

6. Don’t run late

Be sure to start and stop your meeting on time. It’s OK to finish up a little early. In fact, your colleagues will likely sing your praises if you do. But, it’s really not okay to run late. People have appointments and obligations to attend to, so be sure to wrap up when you said you would.

Also, if you’re running a meeting, it’s your job to keep participants on track and the discussion moving along at the right pace. Don’t ruin the flow by chiming in with things like, “Come on everyone, we only have 20 minutes left and we still have so much to do.” Running the meeting, and keeping the appropriate pace, is your job and yours alone. So, instead, simply state that it’s time to move along to the next item.

7. Follow up

Following up with participants after a meeting raises the bar for efficiency.

Send along a brief email following your meeting. You can put together a mass email for everyone who attended, as long as it’s really something that everyone needs to read and you keep it short. Or, you could a few send shorter emails to specific individuals. Express your gratitude for their attendance and participation and then note any action items and associated dates that were agreed upon during the meeting.

Tell Us What You Think

How do you run a useful and successful meeting? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.


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