How To Have Fewer, Better Meetings
Meetings can be the bane of corporate life. Senior leaders and managers typically spend more than half their time in meetings. Yet meetings are essential to effective decision-making and execution and thus to business results. The companies that are best at decisions have learned to manage meetings as carefully as they manage any other part of their businesses. Discover the three-step way to do it:
1. Zero-base your meetings
Some meetings focus on decisions but others don’t, so you should get rid of them. The key is the scalpel that lets you separate the important from the unimportant, that is a good understanding of your group’s critical decisions. The list should include both big one-off decisions, such as major investments, and more routine decisions that add up to significant value over time. If a meeting doesn’t bear on one of these decisions, let it go. Zero-basing your meetings in this fashion lets you phase out all the working groups that have outlived their usefulness.
2. Make meetings effective
The fact that a meeting is supposed to focus on a key decision doesn’t mean that it will. Many meetings tend to go off track. Develop a strategy to keep everyone attentive to the matters at hand:
- Leaders should insist on a clear purpose for every meeting.
- They should establish exact requirements for meeting preparation, including templates, standardized pre-read protocols and deadlines.
- They should design each meeting’s agenda around what they want to accomplish.
- They should also change the conduct of the meeting, with key decisions highlighted on the agenda and a recap summarizing the points reached by the group.
- Another useful tool is a formal decision log. By capturing the group’s actions in such a log, leaders can increase the pace of decisions significantly and dramatically improve the group’s follow-through and execution.
3. Ensure that the right people, and only the right people attend
At some companies, many people make a point of attending all the meetings they can, just so they feel that they are in the loop. They are referred as ‘business tourists’ in the industry. But the only people who should attend a meeting are those with a role in the decisions at hand. Linking attendance to decision roles enables companies to confront a chief cause of meeting proliferation and ineffectiveness such as reopening decisions and wasting time in reiterating past activities. Because meetings are so common, many executives rely on them to organize their work lives. They gauge their relative status by the number of invitations they get. So not everyone will be happy if companies reduce the number of meetings and invitees.
To smoothen the transition, it helps to convey the idea that everybody will soon be attending fewer meetings—and that the remaining meetings will be more productive than in the past. Leaders should attend only those meetings where they play a decision role. They should push back when someone tries to reopen a decision. Every meeting leader can adopt new techniques, such as a moment at the beginning asking, “Does everyone have to be here?” Peers and superiors can recognize and praise such behaviors.
Like other organizational changes, reining meetings can be difficult at first. But you will soon find that with more time at your hand, your remaining meetings are far more productive than before, and that your decisions are better and faster.