How much time do you spend in meetings?
According to a study conducted by MCI, approximately 11 million meetings take place in the United States every day. On average, business executives attend 61.8 meetings per month, or about three meetings a day.
At least one-third of all meetings are considered unnecessary and unproductive, and that estimate is conservative. This translates into the average executive losing nearly three days of productivity a month as a result of ineffective meetings.
To regain lost time and money, leaders need to learn to run effective meetings. Here are some steps to follow before, during and after meetings.
Meetings are shorter and more productive when leaders and participants are prepared. Taking as little as 30 minutes to prepare for a meeting can save hours of actual meeting time. Preparation allows all participants to be focused when they attend the meeting, which saves time and money and increases productivity.
To prepare for a meeting, you need to articulate the meeting’s purpose, identify the desired outcomes (including specific action steps or deliverables), and develop a concise agenda to achieve your desired outcomes. Ideally, you should communicate the meeting’s purpose, desired outcomes and agenda to the participants ahead of time. This allows them to come prepared to the meeting.
I once worked with a senior executive team who hired me to help it prepare for a three-day leadership meeting. When we started to design the meeting, I began by asking a basic question, “What is the purpose of the meeting?” To my surprise, they could not clearly and concisely state the meeting’s purpose, although they knew they needed a meeting. It actually took us a full day to reach agreement to articulate the purpose of the meeting and the desired outcomes.
This was an important step, because my clients were asking for a significant time commitment from participants, which represented a significant commitment of the organization’s time and money. Once we agreed upon the purpose and desired outcomes, it was easy to design the meeting, which was then executed very deliberately and effectively.
Meetings are most effective when they are led by skilled facilitators who are trained in effectively managing group dynamics and employing techniques to achieve desired outcomes expeditiously. If you are running a major organizational gathering, it may make sense to retain the services of an experienced facilitator to help you plan and run the meeting.
Not all meetings require professional leadership, however, and you may achieve the desired results by attending training on basic facilitation skills. These can have a significant impact on the productivity of your meetings.
Other steps to consider during meetings:
Whether it’s a weekly staff meeting or a major national or international gathering, it is important to assess the effectiveness of your meetings. Ask participants: What worked well? What didn’t work well? Where could we improve for next time? This process takes all of 15 minutes, yet can provide important information to improve the productivity of future meetings.
Meetings consume resources. It is in everyone’s best interest to ensure that resources -- specifically people, time, effort, and money -- are applied wisely, judiciously and effectively.
Deborah R. Bernstein is a member of WJM Associates’ executive coaching and organizational effectiveness faculty.