Make Your Meetings Count

We’ve all been in this situation: the middle of the work day, right in the heart of tackling an issue, whether it’s administrative work (responding to email, preparing presentations or reports), technical work (resolving issues, designing a system, planning a proof of concept), customer service (listening to customer feedback, updating documentation to better serve customers) or something else, and then a notification pops up from your calendar app: “meeting in 10 minutes.” Nothing can take the wind out of the sails of productivity like interrupting a hot streak for a meeting. The only thing that is worse is when the meeting is “useless” or not productive.

Have you ever sat in a “useless” meeting? Maybe you aren’t sure what I’m talking about. Let me describe a few scenarios for you.

  • The way too long weekly status update meeting. Are you on a rather large team? Does your team have a weekly update meeting where you report the status of all projects you’re involved with? It can be especially frustrating sitting around a table listening to 20 people update their supervisors on their project status when a handy tool like email exists, or better yet project management software and ticketing systems. Real leaders/managers shouldn’t need to call a meeting to know where their employees are on a given project, but that’s another topic for another day.
  • The “what did we just spend the last hour talking about?” meeting. This meeting likely has a vague title like “New product design” or something similar. There isn’t an agenda and there isn’t even a set direction in which the meeting is supposed to go. There’s no consensus (other than the clock on the wall) as to when the meeting is over, and there is certainly not a list of action items. Instead five people have sat around a conference table talking in circles for the last hour without any defined objectives or action items.
  • The micromanagement meeting. I’ve sat in more of these than I’d like to recount, across several jobs (thankfully none at my latest stop). The kind of meeting where your boss sends you an email and then walks over to your office as soon as the send button has been clicked to ask you how you plan to respond to the email you haven’t had time to read yet and is probably not even in the top-ten unread emails in your inbox. This meeting says “whatever you’re working on isn’t nearly as important as this item I have a question about and I don’t trust you to prioritize your workload, so you need to answer me now.” Okay, maybe it doesn’t say that word-for-word, but it’s easy to  gather that as the underlying sentiment.

I’ll stop describing nightmare meetings, for now, because I could probably dedicate another 2,500 words on the subject, but you don’t have time to read that and I don’t want carpal tunnel syndrome. Instead, here a few easy ideas to make meetings count. After all, if someone’s progress is going to be interrupted, the least that can happen is that their time spent be useful.

Agenda. Seems like a no-brainer, right? Tragically it isn’t. The first step to having a useful meeting is to have an agenda, and not just a simple one that is vague — a specific agenda that addresses each topic to be discussed, why it is to be discussed and what the hopeful outcomes are. For instance:

  • New Product Launch. Determine timeline for R&D, Development, QA, Testing and then release of new product. Tentative schedule should be sketched out by end of meeting.

That sentence took me four minutes to write and could save a half hour in a meeting. It’s clear what needs to be discussed and decided, and what the outcome should be. An agenda that simple can save time, money and agitation — all finite resources. Also, consider sending out the agenda ahead of time, allowing all parties involved to be prepared for the meeting.

Action Items. How do you know a meeting is useful? There are action items. If there aren’t any action items at the end of a meeting, which is to say if nothing needs to be done, then was there a point in holding the meeting in the first place? Let’s look at some examples:

  • Decision Making Meetings – Action Item: Each manager informs their respective team of decision that was made and what it means going forward
  • New Product Launch Meeting- Action Items: Marketing develops an ad, manufacturing develops an assembly timeline, Quality Assurance develops a testing schedule, etc.

Meetings without action items are better as emails.

Finally, the most important part of making meetings matter is the written summary. Is this unnecessary administrative work? No. Does it take time and cost man hours to read an emailed summary? Yes. Is it far less time/money than holding the meeting all over again because no one remembers what was discussed or what they were supposed to do? Absolutely.

Written summaries keep expectations clear, and provide the reference to measure how effectively the action items are taken care of.

Stop meeting for the sake of meeting. Make meetings matter.

About Mike Brandes

Mike is a seasoned audio/video and information technology specialist, with over a decade of experience in the audiovisual and IT industry, including experience in rental/staging, higher education technology management and now an applications engineer for a manufacturer. Mike is active in InfoComm, previously as a member of the Technology Managers Council and currently as an item writer for the Certification Committee. He received his Certified Technology Specialist (CTS) credential from InfoComm in 2013.

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