What’s the biggest time-waster at work? Too many meetings, say many employees. For the second year in a row, that was the top answer in the annual “Wasting Time at Work” employee survey by Salary.com.
There’s a cure for that, says Bruce Honig, chief executive facilitator at IdeaGuides, a San Francisco-based company specializing in meeting facilitation and training. “People don’t feel there are too many meetings if the meetings are useful and productive,” he says. Here are some tips he shared for making that happen:
Have an agenda with clear objectives: If the meeting leader doesn’t have a clear sense of what he or she wants the outcome of a meeting to be, it won’t be productive. Honig suggests using action verbs to signal the purpose of each agenda item—such as create, decide, or present—to make clear what needs to be accomplished at each stage of the meeting.
Invite the right people: Do you need information shared? Idea generation? Buy-in? Decision making? Look at what you’re trying to accomplish with the meeting and make sure to invite those who are integral to that outcome and prune those who aren’t.
Create a visual focus: Using a flip chart or the virtual equivalent creates a visual focal point for meeting participants. “It makes the meeting more active and creates a common understanding, because everyone is looking at the same thing,” Honig says.
Leave with a written plan of action: Before you adjourn the meeting, write down what was decided and who’s doing what and when. “When all the meeting participants can see the plan in writing, you’re once again creating common understanding and agreement of next steps,” he says.
Evaluate immediately: “This is the step most likely to be skipped, but it’s an important exercise if you want to make your meetings more effective,” says Honig. “It only takes five minutes to go around the table and ask for one thing that worked well in the meeting and one thing that could be done better next time.” Alternately, suggests Honig, draw two columns on a flip chart or whiteboard, heading one column with a plus sign and the other with a change symbol. Have people jot down their thoughts about what went right and what should be changed before they leave the room.
These suggestions can help improve both in-person and virtual meetings—and for the most part, even one-on-one discussions. “Of course, a one-on-one discussion will be less formal,” says Honing, “but it’s still important to come into any meeting knowing your objectives and to end the meeting with an agreement on what comes next and whether the meeting met both your expectations.”
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