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The vast majority of us know how much of a drain meetings can be on both our time and productivity. But if a meeting is well organised (and well run), there’s no reason it can’t enhance the productivity, sense of purpose, and morale, for every single attendee.

There’s plenty of content out there about why we hate meetings. Facebook rants written in a moment of complete frustration due to missed opportunities thanks entirely to a badly organised, seemingly pointless meeting that dragged far beyond its allocated time.

Here are some rules to follow for better meetings and to make sure you’re not wasting everyone’s time. Trust me.

Have A Purpose And Make Sure People Know About It

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If you’re simply calling everyone together to give an update or to have a moan, that’s a lecture. A lecture is not a meeting. If you need to update everyone, send an email, or post to everyone on a team tool like Slack which makes group communication easier Slack Makes Group Communication Faster and Easier Slack Makes Group Communication Faster and Easier Group emails can really kill productivity. It's time to put mail clients to rest and use collaboration services like newly launched Slack. Read More . This will be a far better use of everyone’s time.

If you’re in a position where a meeting is indeed needed (i.e. when you need to put something to the group, talk things through, bounce ideas around etc), ensure it has a clear purpose. Why, exactly, are you getting everyone together?

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Bad purpose: “To get everyone up to speed on what’s going on”.

Better purpose: “To gather ideas, set a schedule, and assign next actions to each team member so we can run a successful launch of product X360 by the end of March”.

And please, make sure all attendees know the purpose of the meeting before it happens. If people know what the end results of a meeting will be, they will be far more likely to turn up prepared, and hopefully will have thought through some of the topics up for discussion rather than thinking on the fly.

Create A Clear, Structured Agenda

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Your purpose is your destination. Your agenda is your road map for how you’re going to get there. Without this road map, meetings often spiral out of control, go off topic and nowhere near as many decisions will be made as you were hoping for. If you notice your meetings going off topic, call a halt to that wayward discussion, and bring it back on track as soon as possible.

Structure your meeting agendas Easily Create Meeting Agendas Using Meeting Expectations [iPad] Easily Create Meeting Agendas Using Meeting Expectations [iPad] Though none of us look forward to attending meetings, there are fortunately a number of useful online and mobile applications, such as AgreeDo, that make the task of planning meetings easier. All successful meetings start... Read More carefully using a product such as Meeting Expectations (iPad) or online tools like MyCommittee and Minutes.io. Set a strict deadline for each item on the agenda, while giving individual people a heads up as to what’s expected of them. If you want someone to contribute to a certain discussion in the meeting, let them know! For example:

Agenda

1. Statement of purpose for the meeting and prep- (5 mins)
2. Post-mortem on last weeks launch– what were our KPIs (Kim to report on this). What went well? what didn’t? (15 mins)
3. Ideas on how we can create awareness for the next launch (everyone — please think of some ideas before the meeting) – (15 mins)
4. Decide on 3 of these ideas to flesh out more before the next meeting – (10 mins)
5. Assigning next actions to each team member – (5 mins)

Make Sure Everyone Has What They Need

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I dread to think how much time is wasted each year around the globe due to people turning up to meetings unprepared (including not knowing how to take proper meeting notes Make The Minutes Work: How To Take Effective Notes During A Meeting Make The Minutes Work: How To Take Effective Notes During A Meeting It’s a skill which few people have perfected; the perfect meeting minutes. The record of events saves you headaches further down the line. Here's how you take effective minutes in a meeting. Read More ). Share your agenda with all attendees at least a couple of days in advance of the meeting so they can gather everything that’s required of them.

If you need a certain team member to bring something along, make sure they understand how important it is, and that it’s printed (if needed) in advance, to ensure they don’t get stuck in a queue for the printer. The last thing you need is attendees excusing themselves-  “Oh, sorry, I haven’t had a chance to get it prepared- I’ll have it ready for next week“. This doesn’t help anyone.

If you’re holding a meeting with people who’re working remotely, first, check out our detailed “Online Meeting Guide” plus,  make sure everyone knows how to use whichever conferencing tool you decide to use. Before the meeting, prompt people to check their mic, webcam, and to ensure they have any plugins installed that might be needed for things like Google+ Hangouts Tips On Planning & Holding Effective Meetings With Google Hangouts Tips On Planning & Holding Effective Meetings With Google Hangouts With today's Internet technology, holding online meetings can be both efficient and cost-effective especially if you pre-plan them and make use of time-saving tools. For the last couple of months I've participated in online meetings... Read More .

Only Invite People Who Are Needed

Don’t invite the whole team just to make yourself feel like the big boss. Only invite the people you need. That is, the people who are in a position to help you achieve the purpose of the meeting. Everyone else can be updated later on by reading the meeting’s minutes, or by having a chat with their colleagues at a more convenient time.

Keep Detailed Minutes

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Use a product such as Agreedo (free) to keep detailed minutes Agreedo: Write & Manage Your Business Meeting Minutes For Free Online Agreedo: Write & Manage Your Business Meeting Minutes For Free Online For several weeks now I've been searching for an easy-to-use website or application that would allow me to keep and store the minutes of meetings. The traditional text document approach is no longer a productive... Read More which you can reliably go back to and actually understand. This tool enables you to take detailed minutes using keyboard shortcuts, track the results of meetings (such as tasks accomplished), and share these minutes quickly and easily with your team. If you’re using an iPad, you could also try MinuteTaker ($7.99) for professional meeting reports MinuteTaker and Meetings Help You Produce Professional iPad Minute Reports MinuteTaker and Meetings Help You Produce Professional iPad Minute Reports In my free online MakeUseOf Online Meeting Guide where I provided some tips for planning and holding meetings over the Web, I referenced a few minute taking apps as well. While very few of us... Read More .

Make sure that when people read these minutes, they know the main points/summaries of what was discussed, and what was decided, as well as quickly being able to refer back to this document to know what they, themselves, need to do next.

Exclusion Isn’t Always Better Than Inclusion

Video thumbnail for vimeo video Refresh for iPhone is The Ace Up Your Sleeve at Business Meetings

I know I (just) mentioned that only those people who’re really needed should attend a meeting, but every so often, you should also include everyone for a more informal jam session, where you can all bounce ideas around, talk about what might improve the organisation.

Use this as an opportunity to build a stronger team. Do this over a meal or a beer. Have some tasty food brought into the office, and get everyone to take an hour or two out of their day to get to know their colleagues better, while all working together to make some improvements to the company as a whole. Again, have a purpose, and an agenda, but try to make this kind of get together more informal, less structured, but still with an overall theme, such as “Making the organisation more efficient”, or “Ideas on how we can diversify”.

Assign Clear ‘Next Action Items”

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Before you end the meeting, make sure everyone in the room knows the exact action they need to take next, and its timeline. This is a trick that’s really pushed by David Allen in his fantastic book ‘Getting Things Done‘. Whatever project anyone is working on, make sure there’s a clear next action that needs to be taken to keep this project moving forwards.

To reiterate, this needs to be a specific action (or set of actions), with a strict deadline, not just a broad idea that needs to be done ‘ASAP’. For example

Bad next action: “Summarise last month’s launch’.

Better next action:  “Put together a spreadsheet (with a few helpful charts) displaying our KPIs from the overall launch period. Share this with the launch team, along with sending out a brief email explaining how you think the launch went. Please have this done by Thursday”.

Ask For Feedback

Many people are wary of criticizing their ‘superiors’ or colleagues, so after each meeting, ask people to leave anonymous feedback via an online form (there’s a list of a free online survey tools That's What Everyone Says: 5 Free Tools For Effective Online Surveys That's What Everyone Says: 5 Free Tools For Effective Online Surveys For a while, you wouldn't have had much choice as to which survey service to use, but nowadays there are plenty to choose from. Which one is best for you? Read More  here). Find out what people thought of the meeting — was it too long? Did it feel useful to them? Were their views listened to? How could the meeting be improved next time?

Whatever feedback you receive, make sure you don’t ignore it. Evolve your meetings to make sure they’re working well for everyone involved.

Overall, by following these simple rules to make sure your meetings are well prepared, and well run, you’ll be able to shorten the length, and increase the efficiency of your meetings, while keeping everyone’s frustration to a minimum!

What about you? If your meetings were run more like this, do you think they would be more effective?

Image Credit: Woodleywonderworks, team meeting, via Flickr

  1. Chris Hebbron
    October 10, 2016 at 11:25 am

    Not everyone has to attend a WHOLE meeting. Invite people who have only to make a short appearence at the beginning and deal with their aspect early on. They can then go. Or they could make a virtual appearance, using a video link.

    • Rob Nightingale
      October 30, 2016 at 1:03 pm

      I like it. Good advice, Chris!

  2. James
    October 19, 2014 at 12:08 am

    Many of your articles, such as this one, are excellent pieces of practical advice. Therefore, it would be helpful if, at the end of each article you added the ability to download the article in pdf form so that we can file the article of choice away for further thought and probably, future inclusion in areas of business. Thank you so much for all the articles you produce.

    • Rob
      October 19, 2014 at 2:33 pm

      Thanks James! That's a great idea, though there are some Google Chrome apps that you could download that'll make this idea possible - just do a search on the Chrome web store for 'Download Web Pages PDF' and you'll find some solutions!

  3. Paul
    October 18, 2014 at 5:24 pm

    Many years ago my former employer developed SPACER (we were a bit acronym happy) as part of the introduction to Total Quality Leadership. Each letter refers to something critical to successful meetings, many of which are covered in this article.
    S - Safety, e.g. don't clutter floor, what to do in emergency (for "outsiders").
    P - Purpose, why are we having this meeting.
    A - Agenda with estimated times assigned.
    C - Code of conduct during the meeting, e.g. don't criticize ideas as foolish.
    E - Expectation, what facilitators & attendees will have by end of meeting.
    R - Roles, e.g. note taker, time keeper, meeting process monitor.
    These were very well received and widely acclaimed as improving worker productivity.

    • Rob
      October 19, 2014 at 2:35 pm

      Thanks for the comment, Paul! Yea, it looks like there's a lot of crossover there! From your experience, is there anything else you would have added to these lists?

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