Seven Steps to More Productive Meetings
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We all know that meetings are expensive. Time is precious, and having many people in a room is costly by any measurement. The cost of an interrupted work flow is even worse, especially for a small business.
You might be especially productive early in the morning, from the moment you start working. I might require an hour or so of build-up time before I'm ready to get cranking. But when a meeting starts, our preferences and differences are cast aside. Meetings strip us of the core tenet of the creative process: autonomy.
We can't rid the world of meetings. After all, the benefits of meeting does sometime outweigh the costs. But we can meet more wisely.
Here are a handful of the tips I observed in productive teams:
- Beware of "Posting Meetings"
If you leave a meeting without action steps, then you should question the value of the meeting (especially if it is recurring). A meeting to "share updates" should actually be a voice-mail or an e-mail.
- Abolish Monday Meetings
Gathering people for no other reason than "it's Monday!" makes little-to-no sense, especially when trying to filter through the bloated post-weekend inbox. Automatic meetings end up becoming "posting" meetings.
- Finish With a Review of Actions Captured
At the end of every meeting, go around and review the action steps each person has captured. The exercise takes less than 30 seconds per person, and it almost always reveals a few action steps that were missed. The exercise also breeds a sense of accountability. If you state your action steps in front of your colleagues, then you are likely to follow through.
- Make All Meetings "Standing" Meetings
One best practice I observed in the field was "standing meetings"--meetings in which people gather and remain standing. The tendency to sit back and reiterate points--commentate rather than content-make--dwindles as people get weak in the knees. Standing meetings become more actionable. Courtney Holt, the former head of Digital Media at MTV and now the Head of MySpace Music, insists on the value of standing meetings in his team, "I try to make every meeting--especially those that are called last minute--a standing meeting, ideally each meeting finishes as quickly as it can."
Most impromptu meetings that are called to quickly catch up on a project or discuss a problem can happen in 10 minutes or less.
- State the Purpose of Every Meeting at the Start
Behance's Chief of Operations, Brittany Ancell, suggests starting every meeting with a simple question, "Why are we here, and what are we supposed to accomplish?" As she explains, "Laying out the objective and setting the meeting's tone is one of the leader's key responsibilities."
- Bring Back Transit Time
Building in 10-15 minutes of travel time between meetings can significantly reduce stress. In an article for Harvard Business Review, entrepreneur and business writing teacher David Silverman makes the point that, in grade school, when the bell would ring, we knew we had 15 minutes to get to the next class. "Why is it?" he asks "that when we graduate, they take away our bells, replace them with an irritating "doink" sound signaling "5 minutes until your next meeting" and assume we can now teleport to the location of same? What could cause such madness? In two words: Microsoft Outlook." It seems that the default principles of corporate scheduling have stripped us of the precious transit time that keeps peace of mind between meetings. To bring it back, Silverman suggests that, when scheduling an hour-long meeting, put it in the calendar for 50-minutes.
- If You Must Meet, Meet on Tuesday at 3pm
LifeHacker reported a retrospective study from the online meeting scheduling service "When is Good" where, after reviewing over 100,000 responses to 34,000 events on their platform, they realized that Tuesday at 3pm was the most "available" spot for a meeting. Such a finding suggests that there may be certain times (and days) during the week that, despite varied work flows, work best for your team. Hey, it's not scientific, but it's worth keeping in mind.
Admired leaders recognize the need to measure the value of meetings. Among the most productive leaders and teams I observed throughout the research for my new book, I found that the vast majority of teams shared a healthy hesitation to call meetings. Consider the above tips as ammunition against wasting precious resources in your small business.
Scott Belsky studies exceptionally productive people and teams in the creative world. He is the Founder and CEO of Behance , oversees The 99% think tank, and is the author of the No. 1 iPad bestseller, Making Ideas Happen: Overcoming The Obstacles Between Vision & Reality (Portfolio, April 2010).
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