One of the more entertaining books on business meetings is Death by Meeting by Patrick Lencioni, if not for the title alone. If you’re like most business folks, you probably grow weary of meeting after meeting, especially if nothing gets done afterward. Although it’s probably wise to have them less often than the 11 million Americans have every day, meetings don’t have to suck. Here are ten solid ideas to help you have better business meetings.
Invitation Only: Attendance
One of the worst offenses in having meetings is to invite too many people. Steve Jobs’ austere meeting policy is well documented. When he called a meeting, he only invited people who were essential to the discussion. Jobs believed that a small group would be focused and more motivated. Keep your attendee list as short as possible – it saves the aggregated time of those you don’t invite.
Energy Shortage: Day & Time
To maximize productivity and participation, it is typically better to schedule important meetings on Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday. Many businesses find that mid-morning is most effective for time, because employees have had time to settle in, are alert, and have not gotten bogged down in the day’s agenda. Because meals can reduce energy levels, 3:00pm is also good for afternoon schedules. Consider 10:00am or 3:00pm as strong options for your meeting times.
Steve Jobs famously said “You should never go to a meeting or make a telephone call without a clear idea of what you are trying to achieve.” Before the meeting, share an expected agenda with attendees. Include any information you expect to be read beforehand and emphasize it in the meeting agenda.
Destination: Outcomes of Business Meetings
At the outset of the meeting, the organizer should explain the format and expected outcome of the meeting. “We’re here to decide on our online marketing activity for February” or “We need to assign final web design responsibilities for the website” indicate where the organizer wants to conclude the business meeting.
Focus: Phones & Laptops
Multitasking doesn’t work. If you’re focused on a brief agenda, everyone will have plenty of time for the “other” work later. Ask participants to avoid using email, phones and laptops during the meeting.
Take Note: The Secretary
The meeting organizer should designate someone (preferably other than him/herself) to document any decisions reached or any tasks assigned during the meeting. Simple, accurate notes go a long way to overall effectiveness.
Just in Time: Time Limits
In a large group, it’s advisable to limit discussion during the meeting. If you have a round-table to update on progress with ten participants (marketing, HR, accounting, etc.), giving each an equal time slice helps keep focus and attention. Limit topics discussed to the agenda. Be formal – use a timer on your mobile phone or tablet. Topics can be noted for meeting follow-up if time runs out. Meandering among topics is your enemy!
But Wait: Scheduled Interruptions
Allow a little padding to times for discussion. When a presenter has five minutes, allow two minutes for discussion afterward (for each presenter). Again, anything that exceeds the time can be added to meeting follow-up.
In Conclusion: Stated Actions
The best business meetings end with decisions and actions. Everyone should hear a review of the outcome.
Sequel: Follow Up
The complement of the agenda is the meeting follow-up. Document the decisions and actions in an email (or whatever document/calendar/to-do list system you prefer). Follow-up leaves little room for error and omission. It doesn’t matter whether the organizer or meeting secretary shares the documented outcome.
We referenced Steve Jobs a couple of times in this discussion. Jobs built a creative, highly productive culture using this business meeting mindset. You can contrast this approach with other big technology companies that are reputed for much different styles and see how NOT to do it. Engaging meetings are typically small, brief and focused. The bigger, longer and more unstructured you get, the lower you will find engagement.
OK, gotta hop…off to another business meeting… 😉