Meetings are the third major time waster in the world of work. As much as 50% of working time is spent in meetings, either group meetings or one-on-one meetings. In the estimate of almost everyone, at least 50% of this time is wasted. This means that as much as 25% of all working time is lost in meetings of one kind or another.
However, meetings are not an evil. Meetings are a necessary business tool for exchanging information, solving problems, and reviewing progress. But they must be managed and they must be used effectively.
Here are 7 ways to increase the efficiency and improve the results of meeting time:
1. Is the meeting necessary?
Many meetings turn out, in retrospect, to be unnecessary. There are other ways to achieve the same goal. Something you can achieve it by circulating a memo. You can have a conference call. You can speak to people individually. You can even postpone it to another meeting or another time altogether.
If a meeting is not necessary, avoid holding it whenever possible. If the meeting is necessary, then ask, “Is it necessary for me to attend this meeting?” If it is not necessary for you to attend, don’t go in the first place. If it is not necessary for someone else to attend a particular meeting, make sure that he knows he does not have to be there.
2. Write an agenda.
If you have determined that the meeting is necessary, establish a clear purpose for the meeting, and write up an agenda. An excellent time management tool is for you to write a one-paragraph statement of purpose for the meeting. Start with this sentence: “We are having this meeting to achieve this specific goal.” Then, write out the objective of the meeting. This is a tremendous discipline.
Make out an agenda or a list of everything that has to be covered in the meeting. Next to each item, put the name of the person who is expected to address that particular issue. Distribute the agenda, if possible, at least twenty-four hours in advance so that each person knows what she will be expected to contribute. You want everyone to know what the objective of the meeting is and what will be discussed. This applies to one-on-one meetings with your boss, with your subordinates, with your customers, with you suppliers, and whoever else.
3. Start and stop on time.
Set a schedule for the beginning of the meeting, and set a time for the end of the meeting. If the meeting is going to run from eight until nine, start it at 8 o’clock sharp and end it at nine o’clock sharp. The worst types of meetings are the ones that start at a specific time but have no clearly determined ending time.
Here is another rule: Don’t wait for the latecomer. Assume the latecomer is not coming at all and start at the designated time. It is unfair to punish the people who are on time by making them wait for the person who gets there late, if at all. Many companies establish the policy of locking the meeting room from the inside at the exact time the meeting is scheduled to start. The people who show up late are not allowed in. you can be sure that they don’t show up late the next time.
4. Cover important items first.
When you draw up the agenda, apply the 80/20 rule. Organize the agenda so that the top 20% of items are the first items to be discussed. This way, if you run out of time, you will have covered the items that represent 80% of the value of the meeting before the time runs out.
5. Summarize each conclusion.
When you discuss each item on your meeting agenda, summarize the discussion and get closure. Get agreement and completion on each item before you go on to the next one. Restate what has been decided upon and agreed to with each item before you proceed.
6. Assign specific responsibility.
If you have made a decision, assign responsibility for the specific actions agreed upon and set deadlines. Remember, discussion and agreement without an assignment of responsibility and a deadline for the completion is merely a conversation. Be clear about who is going to do what and when.
7. Keep notes and circulate minutes.
A key to getting maximum effectiveness from meetings is to keep accurate notes and to circulate the minutes of the meeting within twenty-four hours, whenever possible. The person who keeps accurate minutes from a meeting that can be pulled out a week or a month later can resolve a lot of potential misunderstandings. Agendas prepared in advance, followed by meeting minutes prepared shortly afterward, ensure that everyone is clear about his agreed-upon responsibilities and deadlines.