In response to our 6-part series titled “Get the Most out of Meetings”, our guest article contributor Benjamin Bader writes:
Meetings are a subject of which I have a lot of passion. In many cases, meetings are a big waste of time – for the attendees who don’t get anything out of them (or bring anything to them) and for the meeting organizers who don’t achieve their objectives, assuming they had an objective to start with, and were able to clearly articulate it.
When I think of meetings, from my perspective there are 5 things that are critical to success:
- The right attendees
- The right duration
- Ensuring the time is spent productively
- Preparing for a meeting
- Meeting follow-up
The Right Attendees
For a meeting to be successful, you need the right people there. This is measured in both quality and quantity. Every single person in the room or on the phone needs to be present for a reason – if you can’t clearly articulate why “John” is there, then he shouldn’t be invited. From my perspective, meeting attendees fall into the following main three categories:
- Presenters – those with content to share with the group
- Contributors – those who will take what is presented, and either decide something or contribute to the work, and
- Facilitators – those whose job is to ensure the logistics of the meeting work properly.This can be as simple as someone to work the slides on the .ppt, keep time, take notes, scribe, etc. Oftentimes, facilitators can be rolled into either presenters or contributors, but sometimes you need all of the presenters and contributors focused on the topics at hand, so you need someone else in the room to do these tasks.
If someone doesn’t fit into one of those categories, you should re-think inviting them, for your sake and theirs.
The Right Duration
As mentioned in “Part 3: Design the way you set up a meeting” the right duration is important and worth repeating. Meetings are often scheduled too long, and the time available is the time people will take. Many meetings can and should be 30 min. If you’re going more than an hour, it needs to be extraordinary. I am also a big fan of the 45 min. or 50 min. meeting. Having that extra 10-15 min. at the end is gold. How many times are people late for their next meeting or call because they go either exactly to the top of the hour, or run a few min. past? Sometimes you need to travel from one conference room to another room (or back to your desk); Sometimes you need to take a bio break; Sometimes you need to get something off the printer. Having time built into the schedule will ultimately save time.
It also leads to a point on meeting scheduling. Do what you can to schedule meetings at times when people are most likely to attend. When you have access to people’s calendars via an internal calendar server, use that – nothing irks me more than receiving a meeting invite from an internal colleague at a time which is blocked off in my calendar, when I know all they need to do is look first. I appreciate that for certain larger meetings, it is impossible to find a time when everyone is available, so you pick the time that most people are available and hope for the best. However, for meetings of 2-5 people, in my opinion there is no excuse for not checking and finding a mutually-agreeable time. For clients, there is usually a way to have someone check calendars (administrative assistant, friendly colleague, etc.) to ensure key attendees are available. Finally, as good ‘global citizens’, you should be sensitive to time zones and holidays – case in point: I was just invited this morning by a British client to a meeting this Thursday morning, which is Thanksgiving in the U.S.! A little quick research goes a long way.
Ensuring the Time is Spent Productively
For a meeting to be productive, you need to ensure the attendees are ready for the meeting. Many people think only the meeting organizer needs to be prepared, and the attendees just need to show up, but that’s not true in my experience. This starts with the meeting invite itself – the meeting title should be concise and descriptive, and the body of the invite should clearly spell out the purpose of the meeting and what the desired outcome is, and sometimes an agenda for the time period. This not only helps people focus on the task at hand, but also allows attendees to question whether they should attend or not, or can designate a proxy if they do not think they are the right person to accomplish the stated goal.
Relative to that, any key pre-read materials should be distributed to attendees with ample time to review the material. This will ensure that people come ready to discuss the material at hand and use the time efficiently.
When the meeting is over, the work is not over. Was something decided? Were additional action items created and assigned? Who else besides the meeting attendees needs to know about what was discussed/agreed? As soon as possible after the completion of the meeting, a summary of the discussion and agreed next steps should be distributed to everyone. In this way, it’s still fresh in everyone’s minds and the momentum is preserved. Each day, a little bit dies, likes leaves falling off a tree. The sooner the better.
When the initial meeting is not enough to accomplish the stated goal(s), another trick I have is scheduling the next meeting before adjourning the initial meeting. You’ve got all of the players assembled, and nearly everyone has their calendars available via their mobile device or their “old-school” diary book. Getting the next meeting on the calendar will save a lot of time in tracking down people’s schedules.
Benjamin Bader is a Managing Director with Jones Lang LaSalle. He earned his MBA from the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business and studied on exchange with Glenn Williams at ESSEC Business School in Paris, France. Benjamin is based in Chicago and lives with his wife and two children.
You can view our 6-Part Series “How to get the most out of meetings” by clicking the below titles: