The meeting has been scheduled for half an hour. It’s a regular meeting, you have the subject but not really much else. A lot of people from different departments are in discussing the issues. The meeting goes on and you finally stand up and leave as you needed to finish another assignment 30 minutes ago. The meeting has ended. Not much has been accomplished. Does this sound familiar?

A regular unproductive meetingIn all of the organizations I’ve worked in meetings have been a huge if not the biggest consumer of working hours. Sometimes meetings were OK, usually not. In the last organization I worked in there was a growing trend of meetings and meeting hours. This means less time for real work.

I’m a firm believer in as few meetings as possible and if needed then have them as short as possible. There is an extremely good way to achieve these results.

It’s meetings 101 to have an agenda. But most agendas are only half-good. And that’s actually almost worse than having no agenda at all. Another problem is the huge amount of allocated time. The less time you have the less likely people’s minds wander off somewhere else. Third problem is technical equipment where it’s not needed: smartphones and laptops. In most meetings only the presenter needs one.

Here’s how you make meetings noticeably better and faster. Make sure the agenda is clear to everybody. Present specific questions that need to be answered during the meeting. As a quick example, agenda like this is useless.

Interns and overtime

  • Introduction
  • Reasoning
  • Discussion
  • Next actions

It will give you an idea of the subject of the meeting but not much else. However, if you present it in the form of questions like this.

Interns and overtime

  • Should interns be allowed to do overtime?
  • If yes, should we pay them a compensation or only let them use overtime as time off?
  • Who will make the announcement of the decision and when?
  • Does the issue need supervision after execution? If yes, who shall be responsible?

As the questions are presented in advance, everybody can have a clear opinion and reasoning already when coming to the meeting. Also remember that the people who are authorized to make the decisions are present. In addition, as the questions are so clear and already prepared the meeting time will be a lot shorter.

The most interesting part, however, is the phenomena that will be present thanks to the actions above. As you have such clear questions, most of the time you don’t need to have the meeting in the first place as all the questions will have clear answers via email before the meeting will have taken place.

Next time you call in a meeting do everyone a favor and present clear questions to be resolved. No one will know what hit them.

P.S. Don’t mistake a meeting for a brainstorming session.

October 8th, 2012

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