How you can improve meetings at your company
To generalize, there are two types of meetings: for alignment, and for creation. Usually recurrent, alignment meetings are for exchange and communication to make sure everyone is pulling in the direction they should. Creative meetings are the problem-solving ones for cracking nuts.
Make meetings memorable
A small but unusual detail can help your meetings stand out and help attendees remember them positively – before and after. Attendees are “multitasking” on their phones and laptops during meetings? Break out pens and paper and have everyone doodle and color. It promotes active listening, focus and creativity. Many start-ups hold meetings at the ping pong or football table.
Have an agenda and purpose
With no agenda, meetings become social gatherings – the conversation might flow, but nothing happens. The agenda does not have to go into every single detail, but needs to reflect the purpose of the meeting. The agenda is the answer to everyone’s question: how can I get out of the meeting and get to work?
In many meetings, the presentation replaces the structure: individual slides are discussed, but there is no real conclusion. Amazon uses “narratives” instead of presentations to discuss ideas. These memos of four to six pages in the form of a pitch are read out at the beginning, then questions and discussion follow.
All things must end, especially meetings. Limit the total duration of a meeting from the beginning, as well as individual speaking time. Our attention span varies between 10 and 18 minutes and definitely falters after 20, so shorten your meetings. Big speakers realise they can make a lot happen in a short span of time. Steve Jobs’ commencement address at Stanford University was 15 minutes in length, and Martin Luther King shared his dream in 17.
Clear outcome – and follow-up
Action items are key. Attendees need to come out of a meeting knowing what to do next. At the same time, participants need to be held accountable. In recurrent meetings, allow a brief period to review the task assignments from the last meeting. For a one-time meeting, make sure to follow up afterward to check on progress.
Meetings – A necessary evil?
Meetings can be a tool to solve problems. It is when they start to spring up all over everyone’s calendar as part of the company culture and when employees worry more about preparing for meetings than actually getting stuff done that you’re in the danger zone of substituting meetings for making actual progress.
Meetings are a necessary evil, but they are not the only way to make progress. Remember that successful meetings exist. They’re not about individual people, but every single participant can contribute to making it productive, effective and efficient. A successful meeting makes itself obsolete – you need not meet about the same thing again.