How to Build a Better Meeting


If I spend most of my day in meetings, when am I supposed to get my work done?

It’s a sentiment you’ve probably heard, and felt, frequently. Executives spend 40 to 50% of their work time—equivalent to two months of 24-hour days—sitting in meetings, according to Michael Hyatt, author of No Fail Meetings: 5 Steps to Orchestrate Productive Meetings (and Avoid the Rest). Carving out the time and synching busy schedules is tough, but the bigger problem is lost productivity. Meetings should be a help, not a hindrance, to completing tasks, making decisions and disseminating information.

If they’re not, rethink your company’s meeting etiquette; it be may fraught with what management consultant McKinsey & Co. call “fatal flaws.” Its recent survey showed 61% of executives believe more than half the time they spend making decisions—much of it in meetings—is unproductive. For each of these unproductive meetings, your business’ bottom line takes a hit. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce estimates that U.S. companies collectively waste US$37 million each year as a result of these unproductive meetings.

But how do you shift to a more productive model? Here are four ways to sidestep meeting fatal flaws.

Don’t schedule unnecessary meetings

Begin with the obvious: Think before you invite. Don’t plan a meeting unless it’s absolutely necessary, experts warn. There’s a reason the phrase “I survived another meeting that should have been an email” has become a meme; it resonates deeply with workers at all levels.

Of course, this raises the question: How do you determine if a meeting is necessary? Start by asking yourself:

  • Does it need to happen now?
  • Does the meeting objective overlap with other efforts?

Get specific on purpose

You know the scene: You receive a meeting invite from a colleague. It’s got a title, time and place—but no agenda or further information. This offers no means of preparing or knowing if you’ve met the meeting’s objectives. According to McKinsey, let people know if the meeting’s goal is to make a decision, discuss an issue or share information. Be as specific as possible.

The same goes for recurring meetings, McKinsey advises. It’s common to have standing meetings, but they can be a time trap if not properly administered. In such situations, check regularly with team members to ensure the frequency is appropriate and that a specific agenda is set for each occurrence.

Make a guest list—and check it twice

Some meetings suffer from too many cooks in the kitchen. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce follows the rule of seven for meetings in which a decision must be reached. That is, for every attendee beyond seven people, the group’s chance of making an informed decision goes down by 10%, so it’s important that everyone at the table is adding unique expertise or responsibilities.

Just as important to having the right number of people in the room is just having the right people. Compare your meeting agenda to the list of proposed attendees. Will the group have the necessary expertise and authority to move the issue forward? Make sure you invite:

  • Key stakeholders
  • Influencers
  • Decision-makers

Follow-up is key

It doesn’t matter how great the meeting was, it’s worthless if the conversation dies when attendees leave the room. According to Harvard Business Review, the solution to ensuring the conversation lives on is twofold: distribute meeting notes and create a follow-up plan. A good plan has its roots at the end of each meeting:

  • Establish next steps
  • Assign responsibilities
  • Set due dates
  • Assign a manager to check progress

Debra Filcman

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