Have a look at your calendar right now and answer honestly: how many meetings are you actually looking forward to? Sometimes it seems as if a meeting is scheduled for everything (even to prepare for the next meeting). Learning how to run meetings effectively is one of the top skills new managers must learn, however, 75% of people have never received formal training.
Consider this: Atlassian found that 31 hours are spent in unproductive meetings per month. Another study revealed that 45% of senior executives think employees would be more productive if meetings were banned one day a week. What’s more, 47% of employees think meetings are the number one time waster in the office. Most eye-opening of all, Fortune 50 companies are estimated to lose over $75 million a year due to poor meetings.
How can managers figure out if the meetings they’re running are concise, useful and effective? Start by asking these 4 questions:
1. How many people in the room are actually contributing?
If it’s only you and/or 2 or 3 people each time there could be one of three problems:
Others don’t feel comfortable speaking
Do you notice that in every meeting you only have a few people who are always contributing? You may look on these people as your key players who are always prepared and on point. Does this mean that others are normally unprepared or unwilling to share their ideas? Even if you simply have a number of introverts on your team, it’s essential that you make certain everyone feels they can speak up without being criticized for their opinions. In Google’s study to find out what makes the best teams, they found that psychological safety was by far the most important indicator of a successful team.
The meeting is only relevant to the people speaking and could be reduced to a few key people or a 1-on-1
Have you ever been in a meeting and thought, “why am I here?” While it’s important to maintain transparency and steady communication within your team, remember that everyone is busy. If it’s not immediately relevant to their tasks or job role than the person will more likely be thankful that you didn’t include them on the invite list. In fact, 73% of employees have admitted to bringing other work to meetings.
Consider whether the information could be just as easily passed on through meeting notes, during an all hands update or through someone who is tasked with communicating the outcomes to others. Remember that while bringing more perspectives into the decision-making process can be beneficial, too many can also make each decision irrelevant by the time it’s reached.
Also, though it may seem taboo, if you’re not entirely sure who needs the information most, or who might be offended to not be included, make it a standard policy that anyone can decline a meeting without consequences. Let people decide for themselves if they absolutely need to be at the table or they have other priorities they need to attend to.
People didn’t have sufficient information or time to prepare in advance
Consider sending some materials in advance to look over or a short summary of what you’d like everyone to prepare in advance. Remember there are different kinds of meetings, such as those meant for brainstorming, planning, learning and decision-making. All of these need different levels of preparation time.
For example, the informal nature of brainstorming sessions means that people can prepare by doing some light research in advance and come to the meeting with rough ideas which can be matured later throughout the session. In these types of meetings it’s enough to simply provide the topic to be discussed and some background information of how the outcomes will be used.
On the other hand, if you call a meeting to address your lack of progress on sales goals and the invite merely says “sales meeting”. You may be facing blank stares around the room when you begin asking for your team’s MQLs vs SQLs or open the floor for people to suggest a new strategy.
2. Have you forgotten what the meeting is actually about to begin with?
Have you ever noticed that you’re in the middle of a long debate about the benefits of having an espresso machine vs a coffee maker and all of a sudden realized that the original purpose of your meeting was to discuss your latest product sprint?
Getting off topic is one of the most common characteristics of meetings. However, when you’re the one who’s running it, it’s your job to get everyone back on track. A key skill of effective leadership is being able to stop the conversation from going off in the wrong direction, without making someone feel like you’re shutting them down.
You don’t have to be an agenda fanatic. If you need to stop someone from moving the conversation off topic, simply say, “That’s a great point that I think we should discuss more in-depth next week, could you come up with a proposal/framework?”
3. Do you see people’s eyes glazing over?
Surprisingly, this is a serious question you need to ask yourself. One study found that 91% of employees admit to daydreaming during meetings and 39% even admit to dozing off. There are two main reasons you could be losing your team:
Distracted co-workers were cited by 47% of employees as the main barrier to effective meetings. One of the biggest culprits is actually technology. While, tech has improved communication flows in many aspects, when you’re sitting down to have a face to face meeting messages and notifications can easily distract your team. What’s more, the speaker can easily feel like their ideas aren’t important if everyone is looking down at their phone. To eliminate these distractions try having your team leave all phones and laptops at the door. Demonstrate the importance of body language by making it a point to face and turn your body towards whoever is speaking. Encourage by asking questions, or posing questions to others who haven’t had the chance to speak up.
If your meetings are more than 30-45 minutes long this can drastically impact the attention span of your team. While, as some studies claim, your millennial employees most likely don’t have the attention span of a goldfish, psychologists have found that the cognitive ability your brain uses to make decisions can actually become depleted the more you use it. If overused, this can lower the quality of your decision making power.
As the organizer, you should be conscious of the time and make sure your meetings don’t run over the allotted period, or if people’s eyes start to glaze over, it’s time to revisit that espresso debate during a short coffee break. Also, consider timing. When are your team’s high and low points for meetings? Early morning, after lunch, the end of the day?
4. What’s the impact of your meetings?
Maybe you actually had a great and engaging discussion with ideas flowing and everyone contributing. However, a week on you find that nothing new has been implemented and the details of the meeting are now foggy. Even if you feel the meeting went well, it’s essential that you take some time at the end to wrap up and go over the key points, conclusions and decisions made. During this time it’s essential to assign someone to see that each point is carried out after the meeting to ensure action is taken.
Ultimately, the best way to find out how effective your meetings are is by actually asking the participants. Even if you haven’t picked up on any of these common meeting mistakes, there could still be ways you could streamline them and make them useful for everyone in the room. Consider asking your team for their input on how you can make the most out of each meeting.
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