published on November 7th, 2016
I am in a situation where I spent more time in meetings now (o_O), so naturally I have started to look for ways to get more out of these meetings and spend less time in them. This information is nothing new, it is a personal proposition that I want to strive for and making it public just makes that a bit more effective.
All of the points I am trying to stick to come from answering some common sense questions (e.g. why are we having this meeting) and a good preparation of the meeting. Failing to prepare is preparing to fail as they say.
Have a clear objective for the meeting and let everyone know it.
It is amazing how many meetings are held without having a clear objective. I try to get a clear statement what the objective is (or formulate it) and have that all the attendees know. This alone often gives a great focus to the meeting.
Communicate an agenda before hand.
Similarly, having an agenda before the meeting allows everyone to prepare or have additional points scheduled. Having a clear agenda also allows to have a schedule during the meeting so that the allotted time does not run out while only 20% of the topics have been discussed.
Stay on topic, follow up on other points later.
Invariably, while discussing things more topics and questions come up, which are not directly related to the objective of the meeting. Cutting these off and moving them to follow on discussions while not being rude is always a big challenge, but meetings can meander very aimlessly if it is not done.
Make it short and stick to the schedule.
Scheduling a short but realistic time is key to not having the meeting be too long. I often find this to be a challenge. There is always one more thing to discuss and staying on schedule often requires a hard step on the break. Having another committment directly after the scheduled meeting time helps me in having the necessary motivation for keeping the meeting on schedule.
Sent a follow up of the results.
Sending out an email with the key points discussed and agreed upon is very helpful in keeping everyone on the same page and to create some documentation of discussions and decisions made. Ironically, it often feels like a waste of time to do this when one has already spent what seems like too much time in a meeting, but if it was worth having the meeting (and why have, it if not), then shouldn't it be worth to document the main outcome? Follow ups are also great for defining next steps for points that where deferred during the meeting (see 3) and make doing so more credible.
It might seem like you can do most of these things only if you're high up in the hierarchy or running the meeting. However, while this will certainly make things easier, often you can get quite far with a few tricks. Asking questions like "what is our objective for this meeting?" or "is it possible to get an agenda before hand?" will usually be answered positively. Cutting your higher ups off when they go off topic is a bit more risky of course, but politely asking if this discussion can be continued afterwards is often still OK. In the same vein, annoucing "I really have to leave on time b/c of XYZ" when the meeting starts can also help to keep things on schedule. In the end most people have been in too many meetings that have taken up too much time that there is usually strong support for such measures.
I've only started these practices recently, but so far the results are very encouraging. First, some meetings are not necessary: sending an upfront email with the objective and a thought out first attempt at a solution is often enough to render a meeting unnecessary. Sending out a follow up is also great for keeping everyone on the same page of what was discussed, to be able to look things up later and to create follow ups if necessary. The biggest challenge so far is to keep things short and to avoid off topic discussions. My best plan so far is to schedule things with short but realistic time slots back-to-back so that overrunning is not an option.