When the New Year began many of us committed to being more organised and structured at work. We made great efforts to tidy our desks and eliminate the clutter we’d magically accumulated. We committed to using our calendars more effectively and to prioritising tasks and actions. This is all good and indeed necessary. Now it’s time to expand our focus and consider additional actions to assist us in becoming more effective and efficient.
The big complaint many have is the amount of time spent at meetings. Ask anyone about the greatest time wasters and invariably attending meetings will be mentioned. People get frustrated when they consider the time spent at meetings versus the results achieved. Too often they consider meetings exhaustive, repetitive and worst of all a waste of time! When you add up the cost of each person attending the meeting and the length of time of the meeting, what is the cost to your organisation? Can you say this is good value for money? If not, what are you going to do about it?
To address this issue begin by looking at the meetings you have control over. Work to make these meetings as efficient and productive as possible. Consider the following:
1. Define the need for the meeting
Every meeting should have a clear purpose which is evident to all. Simply having the meeting because you’ve always had it is not good enough. Define the outcomes the meeting needs to achieve e.g. measure progress on the project versus what was planned and identify next steps.
2. Determine who should participate in the meeting
Everybody’s time is precious. Don’t include someone unless you can clearly articulate the reason why they should attend and the input you expect from the person.
3. Develop an agenda and distribute it to all involved with sufficient time for them to prepare for the meeting
An agenda needs to have structure. It is not a list of bullet points. An agenda should include a directive e.g. Agree the response to senior management on the new process for resolving customer issues. An agenda should also have the items prioritised and times assigned to each so attendees also know they key issues that will receive the greatest focus.
4. Anticipate how you will facilitate the meeting
The facilitator’s job to keep the meeting on track and ensure the issues identified are addressed. The key skill required is communication: the skill of actively listening, challenging contributions, drawing in reserved people and limiting others who are dominating. In advance consider how you will manage these different challenges and anticipate your responses to the dominant person or indeed the reserved individual.
5. Following your meeting evaluate effectiveness
Review the agenda and determine progress made in terms of achieving what you had identified. Ask others about the meeting: how was it helpful and how could it be improved? Be prepared to stop meetings if they are no longer required.
Of course when it comes to meetings in which you participate you need to consider how you can influence the facilitator to take on board your recommendations for managing the meeting more effectively. Also, query your participation on meetings. Be disciplined and consider your value to the organisation: would you be more valuable to your organisation by attending the meeting or focusing on other deliverables? Of course, when opting out of meetings you need to consider how you communicate that to the facilitator. Again, communication skills are critical.
Tricia Cunningham is the co-founder and senior partner at LEAP.