Making meetings work for you

Meetings are the bane of many (most) people’s work existence and 59% of office workers say that wasteful meetings interfere with their productivity. This is no less true in the project management world where meetings are a vital part of the project’s path to completion. But is every meeting necessary and what is the price you pay for time wasters?

More than 17 million meetings are held every day in workplaces in the United States alone, and loss estimates due to excessive meetings could be as high as $3.7 billion annual. A study in the UK showed that the average office worker spends around 16 hours in meetings each week. That’s over 800 hours a year.

Of course there is value in a group of like-minded people around a table providing vibrant input but all too often meetings turn out to be a protracted waste of time, with attendees checking their email or surfing the internet while someone drones on in the background. There is no doubt that face to face interaction often trumps email communication but it’s all about striking the right balance.

Here are some simple tips for making your meetings more productive:

  1. Consider whether the meeting is really necessary – often there is a better and more effective way of achieving a particular outcome.
  2. Create an agenda with specific time allotted for each topic and appoint a time keeper to ensure that the discussion stays on track.
  3. Always start (and finish) on time; and keep your meetings short and sharp – remember human beings have an attention span of less than 30 minutes.
  4. Restrict the number of attendees – according to the Rule of 7, every attendee over seven reduces the likelihood of making a good, quick, executable decision by 10%. Once you hit 16 or 17, your decision effectiveness is close to zero.
  5. Clarify the purpose of every meeting and each attendee’s role in it and advise them accordingly prior to the meeting.
  6. Keep meetings for solving problems and coming up with new ideas. Use electronic tools to keep the team updated on project status instead of making them sit through status reports.
  7. Ask attendees to leave their cellphones and iPads in a basket at the door – productivity drops if half the attendees are doing other things online during the meeting.
  8. Wrap up every meeting with a clear plan of what needs to be done as a result of decisions taken and assign actions to the appropriate owners.
  9. Richard Branson, Virgin founder, holds discussions in innovative spaces – anyone can leave their desks behind and head outdoors, because a “change of scenery and a bit of fun does wonders for getting people thinking differently and loosening up!”
  10. Christopher Frank, an author and vice president at American Express, suggests a Twitter-like hack – start your meeting by asking each person to articulate in five words or less the problem to be solved.

Whichever approach you favour, it’s worth spending some time thinking about how to maximise productivity in project meetings and whether it’s worth cutting down on non-essential meetings. You’ll not only have a more productive team but they are bound to be happier too!

© Tony McManus, McManus Consulting.  |  Image created by