5 ways to keep your meetings short, sharp and productive

Is there anything at all in executive life that wastes more time than meetings? Endless discussions with disinterested coworkers all keen to get back to work. But as Pippa Begg points out in Training Zone, once you’ve joined the board, meetings are your work.

Some board directors spend up to 10% of their working hours actually in board and executive meetings, not to mention the countless hours spent preparing for them.

Yet most meetings, whether board meetings or team management meetings, are not models of efficiency. Many workplace meetings are conducted with too little forethought or preparation, and ramble on with too little focus.

Here’s some advice about making your workplace meetings more productive.

1. Be specific

Some companies invite experts from other departments to attend part of a meeting to give their views on a particular matter. The trouble comes if too many people are invited because this will inevitably reduce the time spent on each item.

So focus on the specific input you would like from each person, and don’t let them tell you all they know on their expert topic, which will be far more than the meeting needs for a decision.

2. Focus on what’s important first

Discuss the heavier items when people are fresh. Long meetings, where tiredness and boredom have set in, are not the best forum in which to make the most important decisions.

The best meeting agendas put the weightier items, demanding the most debate and consideration, near the top. So limit the time spent noting previous actions or receiving operational updates, and get on with setting the forward agenda for the organisation.

3. Allow time for preparation

Give everyone a chance to understand the thrust of each agenda item. Make sure all the paperwork has been sent out in plenty of time for people to actually read it. Recent research by Board Intelligence and Cambridge Judge Business School found that to read everything in a standard size board pack, you’ll need to dedicate a whole day.

For many meetings, there is a tendency to give far too much information which isn’t needed to make a good decision. As one FTSE-100 director puts it: “Tell me what I need to know, not everything you know”.

4. Tick tock

Keep to time. Too often workplace meetings either start late or overrun. To stay on track everyone needs to know who’s chairing the meeting and they need to be empowered to be firm and stick to agreed time limits.

5. Be sure to follow up

Arrange adequate follow up. By the end of the meeting, everyone must be clear on what actions are expected, when and by whom they should be delivered. The meeting will have been pointless if actions aren’t clearly delegated and progressed.

With focused preparation and greater thought beforehand, workplace meetings will be more productive and less time consuming, and as corporate history shows, that can spell the difference between success or failure of a business venture.

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