When meetings are done wrong, they can become the biggest waste of time in your day-- disrupting your workflow and productivity or complicating the already hectic schedules and projects of your team.
To combat meeting fatigue and keep meetings as short and productive as possible, I've come up with a few tips that have helped get meetings on track:
1. Ask yourself if it's necessary.
The first step in doing meetings right is to ask yourself one thing: Is this meeting necessary? In other words, is it essential?
This first step is critical, and informs the rest of the process. It's also not always as easy as it sounds; it can be tempting to think a meeting is needed when you don’t know the answer to a problem, when you feel the need to share an idea, or when you assume that others should be involved.
Challenge yourself to think about what is needed and who is critical to making that happen. If you stop to think about the tangible goals of the meeting, most times you'll realize that a meeting won't help you reach those goals.
2. Prepare an agenda – and stick to it.
Once you've determined that your meeting is necessary, the next step is to craft a useful agenda. Focus on the tangible end goal and work backwards to plan out the schedule. Each item should bring you one step closer to the end goal, and if it doesn't, chances are that the individuals meeting are getting distracted or wasting time talking about other non-essential subjects. Hold yourself and others accountable to a solid agenda. No agenda? No meeting.
A successful agenda should show each attendee immediately if they are needed or not. A few guidelines:
• Agendas should be actionable and point to a "next step."
• Send out your agenda at least 24 hours in advance of the meeting, and empower your team to add to it.
• Let your team have the option and flexibility of not showing up if they don’t think they are needed.
3. Notice when people "check out."
It's easy to see when someone "checks out" at a meeting -- checking their phone or doodling. Notice it and call it out. Keep in mind that they checked out for a reason and it's probably not their fault -- the topic might not relate to them or the meeting went off the agenda.
Employees should have the ability to leave if they don't think the meeting is relevant to them. Here's how to stay on track and keep people from checking out of meetings:
• Start on time and end on time. Seems so easy, but it frequently doesn't happen.
• Create a "Parking Lot." When meetings go off agenda, throw that topic in the parking lot so you can follow up on it later.
• Summarize key action items at the end of the meeting and send them out in an email with a persons' name next to each action item.
• End by asking "Was this valuable?" and ask what you can do better. You can gain a lot by empowering your team to craft what the meeting format should look like and how to improve on it.
4. Create fun and productive one-on-one meetings (beer optional).
I have weekly optional one-on-ones with my entire team. This is an opportunity for my team to have uninterrupted time with me if they need to. It's important to me to make sure these informal meetings are fun, but also productive. For example, every Friday afternoon I have "Beers with Martha" on my calendar, where I meet with my Executive Assistant for a drink and go over everything for the upcoming week.
Walking meetings are also a good change to the normal conference room setting. As a society, we spend way too much time sitting down, slouched over at our desks, so getting up and moving is a great way to meet. Once a week I meet with my marketing director for a meeting that called "Smoothies with Mitchell." We walk to a cafe for smoothies, and the time it takes to walk there and back is just enough time for us to catch up. Walking meetings tend to be more productive too. Walking seems to stimulate more creativity and natural dialogue. Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerburg are famous proponents of walking meetings.
In the end, meetings are a necessary part of running a successful company -- we need face-to-face time with people to make progress. But no one wants their time wasted, so challenge yourself to make the most of meetings, and other people's time, by re-evaluating how you approach meetings in terms of goals, format, and style. Keep in mind that the time spent before the meeting itself is just as important - if not more important - than the actual meeting. And last but not least, have fun!