We’ve all endured the team meeting that offers more insight into Sally’s dating preferences than your project. It usually begins life as a “quick catch-up” before morphing into a mind-numbing morning eater. It’s also the No.1 cause of “meeting dread”, AKA that panic you feel when a reminder for your weekly WIP pops up on your screen. Thankfully, there is a cure for this common productivity killer. Try these tips to keep your meetings on track, on time and on agenda, so you can get back to getting shit done.
Make a plan
“I personally will not enter a meeting that doesn’t have a clear and concise agenda,” says business strategist Matt Malouf, author of The Stop Doing List. “A meeting without an agenda is simply a chat about whatever comes up.” If you’re organising the meeting, make a habit of sending a brief rundown of the topics you’ll be discussing, and ideally, set an objective. “Is it to solve a problem, collaborate and share ideas, a general update and review?” notes Matt. “If you set your objective from the start, you’ll be more likely to stay on track to achieve it.”
Sure, a jovial atmosphere and a well-timed zinger can elevate the herd’s mood, but if your resident comedian gets on a roll, you can kiss meeting efficiency goodbye.
Keep it tight
Ever noticed how meetings often feel like an open-mic night? The heady mix of a captive audience and an inflated sense of importance can send some office workers into performance mode, with varying levels of success. Sure, a jovial atmosphere and a well-timed zinger can elevate the herd’s mood, but if your resident comedian gets on a roll, you can kiss meeting efficiency goodbye. Nominating a meeting leader – someone who’s adept at cutting through chatter and steering group discussion – is a good fail-safe strategy. Otherwise, practise your own gentle nudging skills – try piping up to flag that you have an appointment in 20 minutes, or remind your colleagues why you’re really there with a recap of what you’ve achieved so far: “So, to clarify, Linda is taking care of marketing…”
Start saying no
Here’s a smart strategy that could completely eliminate meeting dread: don’t show up. If you suspect you’ve been invited out of courtesy and you’re not really needed in the discussion, hit ‘decline’ and use your refusal as an opportunity to empower your teammates. “Politely decline the meeting claiming that you have faith in the people attending to work through the agenda, or that you feel that with the people attending the meeting you won’t add additional value,” tips Matt. A little flattery could be your ticket to meeting freedom.
Steve Jobs was a fan of the walk and talk, and no wonder, given that research shows a simple stroll can breed creativity. Ditching the boardroom for a moving meeting works on two levels – it gets everyone outside for a fresh-air break, and it gets the pow-wow done with minimum procrastination. Just choose your moments wisely, says Matt, so you don’t end up attempting to discuss sensitive data with a throng of 20 walkers. “I think you need to assess the agenda and the timeframe for the meeting, and then assess the environment and tools required,” Matt notes. “Standing meetings, for example, are effective for a daily huddle. It keeps the meeting short and sharp and ensures everyone is present and has nowhere to hide.”
Put a cap on it
Ultimately, setting a clear time limit for your meeting might be the most effective tool you have. “Remember, a meeting will fill the time given to it,” warns Matt. “Be clear about the time you have and people will eliminate the fluff, get to the point and become more productive.”
A quick meeting is a good meeting, we say – aim for a standard 30 minutes and you’ll have more time to debrief Sally’s latest Tinder date over lunch.