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I hate meetings.  They can take too long, sometimes they are quite boring, and I rarely feel a sense of accomplishment at the close of a meeting (versus doing real work at my desk).

And yet, I also love meetings. Talking in person can be so much more efficient. And my best ideas usually come from discussing them with other people.  Plus, as a shy introvert, without meetings I would be disconnected from my work colleagues who are pretty smart, awesome people I enjoy being around.

Like all things in life, meetings need to be in balance.   (Tweet this!)

Whether you love or hate meetings, I’d bet at least some of your meetings could use a little shake-up.

Hopefully you are already amazing at running meetings, but even the best meeting-goers could use a few new tricks.  If you are doing the same things the same way you have always done, then you are going to get the same results you always have – and that isn’t necessarily a good thing.  Thankfully, you are a leader; and that means you can make some changes.

Below is a list of some of the best ideas I know to get a little more out of each of your meetings.  As you read through, note a few that you like, since your homework is going to involve trying them out.

Could a meeting be described as a waste of time?

  • Start the meeting with desires. What does each person want to get out of the meeting? If you do this, things will go much faster and the number of the people in the meeting will decrease if they realize they don’t have a purpose for being there.
  • Check the time. Meetings default to 30 minutes or an hour.  However, most meetings really don’t need to be that long.  Check your agenda. Can you cut it down?  Arrive on time and start on time.  If you can create a culture of punctuality, you would be amazed at how productive you can be a 15-minute meeting.   And if you run long, triage and schedule a second meeting.  Don’t be rude and make everyone around you late. You should always end meetings on time, if for no other reason than constraints breed creativity.
  • Agendas. You have these, right? Make sure you have an agenda for meetings you schedule, however small it may be. Let people on the invite know what you want to accomplish in advance. If you’re invited to a meeting with no agenda, ask for one politely.
  • Do you really need to be there? If you feel something can be accomplished without a meeting, make a simple phone call and talk to the organizer. Sometimes things are lost in translation in written communications that can be resolved by just talking to someone. Then presto! You can eliminate the meeting entirely.Otherwise, if a meeting is necessary but you specifically don’t need to be there, see if you can delegate to someone on your team. This is a great way to give more responsibility to others (just make sure they know your expectations around taking notes and participating). Try to let them make the decisions on your behalf and discuss them with you afterward. Trust is scary, but it can work wonders for your team and productivity.

Make your meeting so efficient, they could be described as high efficiency (more than a washing machine even).

  • Change up your location. If it is a short meeting, try standing up (great for status meetings, like agile standups). If you meet in your office, or if there are only 2-3 of you, go for a walk. Sometimes moving about and standing can help people focus, instead of being distracted by their computer or other peripherals.
  • Enter the room, your phone goes in the box. Get a box, put it in your meeting room. When people come in, phones go into the box. You would be amazed at how fast things go and how well people stick to agendas without their devices to distract them, allowing them to accept their fate of boredom.
  • Get out of your seat. Is the meeting dragging on? Grab a whiteboard marker and stand up. Capture ideas on a white board to keep things moving. You don’t have to be the organizer; you can just be the one up taking notes on the whiteboard as you move things along. If an idea brought up is off topic, create a parking lot for ideas and people can follow up afterward.
  • Establish an end-of-meeting ritual.  Maybe it is action items; maybe it is identifying all of your “Do Not Know’s” that need resolving.  Or you can try just writing your top 3 takeaways from the meeting.

Brainstorming, or working through ideas…

  • Show a funny clip or video at the start of the meeting for inspiration. This can be a clip from a movie, a great advertisement from another company, or even part of a speech.  Set aside a few minutes to discuss and lead into the rest of the meeting.
  • Have each person answer a question or bring an idea to the meeting. Send out the question or topic with the meeting invite so people have to come prepared. For example, what are the 2 best social media campaigns you have seen this year and how we could replicate them?
  • Dumb questions. Tom Peters is a management guru, and in his teachings he talks a lot about curiosity and not being afraid to ask dumb questions. It is important to have a culture where people aren’t afraid to ask questions, and where people seek to understand. Next time you are having a discussion on a topic, go around the room and have everyone ask a dumb question (no answers required). Reward the person with the best question, and then answer them.
  • Come up with 100 ideas.  It is all about quantity not quality here. Write every idea down. The first time KateS and I did this we were working on content ideas for our blog.  She thought I was kidding when I said 100.  However, after about 40 minutes we had 100, and there were a whole lot of good ones in there.  It is amazing to watch dumb ideas inspire great ideas.

Team meetings that are more than someone on a soapbox.

  • Show and tell. What is something you saw recently that really impressed you? Tales of great customer service. Products or websites with those little details that just make you smile (I have a mixing bowl with a no-slip surface on the bottom – genius). Do this regularly and you will be amazed at what you hear from people. Great way to learn about your team, and get ideas of the little things you can do to delight your customers.
  • Conduct a speed session. And this isn’t about going fast in the meeting, but about what you can do as an organization to move faster. Try to identify at least one tactic per person, and then make them happen.
  • Create a culture of improvement. There are always things you can do to improve. Go around the room and identify all the dumb things that happened recently as a team. Try to come up with at least 20. Then ask, “How can we fix them?”
  • Bring in outsiders. Invite external people to come and lead a topic or brainstorming session with your team.  Or invite the leads of other groups to come and attend your team meeting.  Bonus points if they are in a whole other discipline you don’t know much about.
  • Talk to your customers. Invite customers (internal or external) to the next team meeting or all hands.  Many employees don’t get as much exposure as they should and this is a great way to help them see their impact and build closer relationships with these important people.
  • Share the lead. Have different members of the team take turns leading the meeting so it rotates through everyone.  This is a great way to shake things up and give each person some leadership responsibility.

Do you have other ideas that have worked well for you?  If so, let us know!  We are always looking for more ways to get the most out of our time together.

Learn more tactics for effective and useful meetings

Brilliant Meetings Let's Stop Meeting Like This Making Things Happen

Tags: change, leadership, meetings, productivity, Strategy, team, time,

6 Responses to “Meetings suck. Here’s how you improve them.”

  1. john wilkes

    I really hate it when people dilute what is otherwise good advice with statements such as “a meeting (versus doing real work at my desk)”, to suggest that they aren’t “real” work. Sure – it’s fun to snigger, but it undermines the point of the rest of the post. Meetings are as much real work as communicating to your customers, or discussing choices with your colleagues over email, or setting goals for yourself. Stop mis-branding them all as time wasters, and view them for what they can be: a tool for mutual communication, developing ideas, and exploring disparate knowledge pools. Used well, they can help you get to your goals faster and more effectively. If that’s not work, what is?

    • katemats

      Thanks so much for your comment Mike. I totally get your point, and I agree meetings are definitely real work and are an important part of any successful organization. I think we have all experienced that moment, though, of being in a time-wasting meeting and thinking about all the other “real work” we could be doing instead of sitting bored around a conference table. Of course, not every meeting is that way — and the goal of this post was to help people run meetings that *are* real, productive work.

      Collaboration is a key part of business, and we want to make sure the time people spend in meetings helps move things forward, and isn’t just an hour people spend wishing they were somewhere else.

      Thanks for your comment!

  2. Oncle Tom

    I’m surprised not many other people commented on this blog post regarding the amount of wasted time in meetings.

    This is even more surprising as your blog post summarise everything we should have in mind while adding a meeting to the schedule.

    Eventually it could be summarised as 3 words: openness, motivated and serendipity.
    Hm, looks like it’s also a key factor to develop its business.

    • katemats

      Thanks Tom! I’m glad you left a comment :)
      And your insights on what to think of in scheduling a meeting are really smart. Hopefully more companies and people will adopt a meeting-as-useful-communication-tools and not the standard way of getting things done.

  3. Melissa

    Really enjoyed the tips in this article. I dread leading my standing department meeting. I feel like it’s something I do because I have to as a manager, but this article has given me some ideas for improving our regular meetings. I do wish you had a Pinterest share feature- I keep a “creativity toolbelt” Pinterest page for items that inspire and motivate me and it would have helped to be able to link directly from your page. Thanks again.

    • katemats

      Thanks Melissa – the Pinterest sharing feature is a great feedback. We will have to look to adding that to the page.