Why are we here?
In pretty much every company I work with, people complain about meetings. Too many meetings, useless meetings, a waste of time, I don’t really need to be there…
While you can’t improve the quality of every meeting you are invited to, you can improve the quality of the ones that you run with your staff.
I want to share 4 lessons I have learned and used with my own teams to make our meetings highly productive.
1. Laughter vs. formality
I read an article many years ago that said that people are more productive after they have been laughing.
I didn’t research that any further. It seemed instinctively right to me so I gave it a try.
In my next staff meeting before we got down to business, I asked if anything funny happened to anyone over the weekend. Someone told a great story and we all laughed.
Then, someone said, “That reminds me of a joke…” We all laughed again. After about 10 minutes of sharing and laughter, we launched into the meeting. It was the most productive meeting we ever had.
I stuck with it. That became part of my formula.
I used to invite people from other functions into my staff meetings. This by the way is a very effective (and lazy!) way to spread communications cross functionally.
Just invite someone from another team to attend your staff meeting. They absorb a bunch of what your team is doing and thinking about, and your team gets a chance to hear from them too. A great cross pollination of knowledge and ideas — and no extra effort!
Anyway, when my guests would experience the first 10 minutes of us telling jokes and stories and laughing, they would always be taken aback. I could see them thinking, “Why am I wasting my time here? These people aren’t working.”
But inevitably, after the meeting was over they would give me the feedback that “this was one of the most productive staff meetings I have ever been to!”
Try laughter first, it works.
2. Unstructured Conversation vs. Status
Last week I wrote about the importance of unstructured conversation.
Getting your team really talking about important things that everyone has a stake in, or what it will really take to implement a project or strategy, has a much higher value than merely reviewing status.
See also: Stop Having Status Meetings: 5 better things to talk about instead where I list 12 things to talk about instead of status.
3. Desired Outcome vs. Agenda
I have learned that merely having an agenda is not a predictor of a high quality meeting. The truly important thing to have is not a list of things to talk about, but a desired outcome to accomplish in the allotted time.
I never start a meeting without getting an agreement about, “What is our desired outcome for this meeting?”
Be declaring a desired outcome upfront (I actually prefer it to be in the meeting invite!) many positive things happen.
1. When you get off track you can say, “this is not helping us achieve our desired outcome, let’s talk about that another time”
2. You have a goal that you need to finish in time. It makes you get to the action sooner
3. You actually accomplish something specific in the meeting instead of just talking generally about the topic
4. If you are clear about the outcome up front, and the required people to achieve that outcome are not present, you can cancel/reschedule the meeting instead of wasting time
5. If you define the desired outcome up front, you know when you are finished. So if you reach the desired outcome early, you can end the meeting!
Meetings without a desired outcome defined up front waste time.
4. Start and finish on time
Speaking of time, this seems so simple, but the vast majority of meetings don’t start and end on time.
Or when people are late there is no consequence, and you have to start the meeting over again to catch them up.
Create a culture that at the very least your meetings start on time and make it clear that everyone is expected to be on time.
You will save an enormous amount of time and energy if you stick to this simple principle.
Also, if you can develop this habit, it will reinforce other good habits. See also: Getting big gains from small habits
What do you think?
Join the conversation about this on my Facebook page Patty Azzarello Practical Business Advice for Humans.
Patty Azzarello is an executive, best-selling author, speaker and CEO/Business Advisor. She became the youngest general manager at HP at the age of 33, ran a billion dollar software business at 35 and became a CEO for the first time at 38 (all without turning into a self-centered, miserable jerk)