6 Tips to Save Time with Fewer (and More Productive) Meetings

For most companies, there’s no way around having meetings as a way to conduct day-to-day business. At the same time, it’s hard to find any CEO or business owner who doesn’t experience frustration at having to participate in so many meetings, or who feels stymied by the lack of concrete results that come from these meetings.

The problem becomes even more deplorable when you think about the time lost in this particular activity. Whether it involves a small group of your senior executive team or a company-wide gathering, there’s just no excuse for taking up precious minutes or hours and having little to show for it.

Here are six tips for maximizing the value of the meetings you request and/or participate in. (First hint: Reduce the number of meetings you take part in on a regular basis.)

Be sure there’s an agenda. Just because a once-a-week meeting pops up on your calendar doesn’t mean you should attend if nothing pressing is being addressed. Ask the person organizing the event to provide a meeting agenda beforehand, complete with any materials needed to review in advance and a time-limit attached to each agenda item. This way, you can determine whether or not your presence is absolutely necessary.

Don’t invite anyone who doesn’t need to attend. When individuals attend with no real stake in the matter at hand, a significant amount of time can be squandered when these people choose to weigh in at length. Meeting organizers should invite only those people who can provide helpful input and move the process forward.

Appoint a timekeeper. How often does a meeting participant share his or her input at such length that a 30-minute meeting drags on for another half-hour or longer? It’s understandable. People want to share their insights and knowledge (or, sometimes, a simple opinion), but allowing them to speak indefinitely eats up time better used elsewhere. One simple solution is appointing a meeting participant to act as timekeeper. This person pays close attention to the time specified for each agenda item; when that time expires, his or her job is to politely cut off conversation (offering alternative options for further discussion) and keep things moving forward.

Explore different types of meetings. There’s no law stating that every meeting must take place in the company’s conference room. Look at different venues for a meeting setting, such as a brisk walk outside. “Not only will a bit of fresh air and sunshine wake up colleagues and get the blood flowing, but it will also stimulate creative thinking,” notes Small Business Trends.

Determine a “no device in meetings” rule. By now, it’s a fact of life that employees (and executives) are closely attached to their mobile devices. But allowing the use of devices in a meeting only encourages participants to become distracted and not contribute to the topics under discussion. Establish guidelines under which it’s permissible (or not) to text, check emails or otherwise look at devices during a meeting. A three-minute break to check for messages during a long meeting might be a viable solution.

In addition, think about not allowing digital devices as people enter the meeting location. Some team members are more apt to check their email or drop in on their favorite social media platform while waiting for the meeting to start, over having constructive informal conversations with other team members (don’t undervalue the importance of informal team interactions).

As you establish new policies or guidelines for conducting meetings in your organization, outline your proposals in a way that clearly is advantageous to all involved. “The key is to frame your advocacy not as purely self-interested (“I don’t have time for this nonsense”), but instead as a manifestation of your commitment to the company and your shared mission,” states Harvard Business Review. For most people, “that’s a hard message to resist.”

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