Meetings are essential, and meetings waste a large amount of time. Both of these statements are true. Whether you spend most of your time attending meetings, or holding them, you can be more effective.
- To meet or not to meet, that is the question.
Is this meeting essential, and do you have to be there? Will the telephone, e-mail or a walk along the corridor settle the matter? Are you the best person to attend, can someone else attend in your place? Is the meeting being held because it is always held at that time and you attend because you always do, or do you have a contribution to make? Only hold a meeting if it is absolutely essential, and only attend one, if you can make a contribution.
- Travelling time
If you have to attend a meeting that involves travelling is there an alternative method of communicating? Video, audio and telephone conferencing save time and money and are much more readily available than previously. If you have to travel, take the fastest and most comfortable routes the budget will allow and use the time productively, and if driving yourself is the only option use your time to listen to teaching or training cassettes to improve your skills.
- What are your objectives for this meeting?
Are you hoping to gather information, solve a problem, make a decision, provide the group with information? Be clear in your mind why the meeting is being held and what outcome you are hoping to achieve. Make sure everyone else knows too.
Every meeting should have a written prioritized agenda with the most important items first. Prune the agenda so it can be covered in the time allowed and make the items sufficiently detailed so that attendees can prepare adequately. If you are calling the meeting, make sure the agenda is circulated in good time, if you are attending a meeting, make sure you read it!
- Keep the numbers to a minimum
Invite only those who need to be there — calculate the costs involved based on the salaries and overheads of those involved and make sure the outcome is worth the expense. Meetings with large numbers of people inevitably take longer than small ones, remember, time is money!
If you are holding a meeting, avoid on-the-hour starts. People are more likely to be punctual if a meeting starts at 11.20am than at 11.00am. Set a finishing time, and stick to it. Arrange meetings just before lunchtime or at the end of the day, they will be less likely to overrun. If you are attending a meeting, be punctual, late arrival wastes time and therefore costs money.
Too frequently meetings are used to escape from paperwork and the telephone, and so are likely to degenerate into general discussions rather than remain focused. If the agenda is short, keep everyone standing: people are more alert when standing and nobody will want to needlessly prolong the meeting.
- Manage the meeting
Whether or not you are the chair, you can help to keep the meeting focused by paying attention; by keeping your contributions concise and to the point; questioning relevance of comments of others; by not engaging in one-to-one discussion; summarizing decisions and reiterating action points.
- Minutes and meeting notes
Writing minutes is too important a job to be delegated. Unless constitutionally required, keep the minutes to an absolute minimum both in language and content – avoid the ‘and he said and he replied’ approach and just name the action required, the person accountable and the completion date. Distribute the minutes within 24 hours so that no one has an excuse for not completing the action on time. If you receive minutes requiring action that does not agree with your own notes, check out the problem immediately don’t wait for the next meeting.
- Value-analyse your meetings
At the end of the week take the time to analyse the meetings you have held or attended and ask yourself: Was the action agreed worth the time spent in the preparation, attendance and minute writing? Was the total amount of time spent by those attending justified by the action agreed? Take a look at next week’s diary, and go to item 1 above.