It’s relatively easy to call a meeting. It’s much more difficult to make one productive.
Meetings seem pretty benign. They are routine and relatively neutral parts of everyday business life. Nothing about them screams “danger.” But they can be dangerous (in their own boring way, of course).
This may be hard to notice in the moment, but business meetings require a large time investment. Add together everyone’s input, including all the preparation and follow up, and you’re easily talking double-digit worker/hours. That’s a lot of time sunk into a single discussion about this year’s holiday party.
All that potentially wasted time defines the danger. It’s very easy to turn even a simple-seeming meeting into a massive boondoggle. As such, you should strive to make every group get-together as productive as possible.
Luckily, there are ways to accomplish this goal. Here are six things you can do to ensure you get the most out of every meeting you call.
Much of the work of running a productive meeting takes place before anyone assembles in a conference room. Good preparation sets the stage for an efficient and focused meeting. You should sketch out a game plan, laying out what needs to be communicated at the event and outlining the best way to get that done.
The hardest thing about most meetings is keeping the discussion on track. This gets easier when you head into it with a definite idea of what you want to accomplish. Consider what you want to say, and what outcome would define success.
When first planning your meeting, consider whether it is necessary at all. If you can disseminate the information in another way, consider skipping the part where everyone gets together. If you determine that a meeting is the best way to achieve your goal, outline what you want to do and prepare an agenda for the meeting to follow.
Think About Logistics
A meeting isn’t an abstract thing. It takes place in space and time. Saying it that way may seem like the start of a weird debate that two philosophy majors would start at two in the morning. But that concept has an effect on how the meeting progresses.
You need to find a place to have the meeting. It needs to accommodate everyone invited. Depending on the situation, you might need to reserve the big conference room for a larger gathering, or just get a handful of people together at the coffee shop across the street.
Whatever the case, make sure your location fits the needs of the meeting, both in size and in the accommodations (does it have the proper tech hookups for your presentation, for example). Meanwhile, you need to fit the event into everyone’s schedules. It might take some negotiation to make sure all the major players can attend.
Don’t call a meeting in order to dump a large amount of information. That’s what email is for. If you are bringing people together in the same room, be prepared to hear what they have to say.
At its core, every meeting should be a brainstorming session. You should solicit ideas from the people present and get their feedback about the topic at hand.
Meetings can get off course quickly. One stray comment about the wrong subject, and pretty soon the entire conversation has shifted to a new topic. These serpentine conversations can become a massive time-suck.
As such, be aggressive about keeping the meeting on track. As we said before, encourage people to share ideas. But if they bring up extraneous issues, tell them you can discuss them at a later time.
Meanwhile, respect the time limits set for the meeting. If everyone agreed to a half-hour gathering, make sure it is finished as close to a half hour as possible. People carved out time for the meeting…don’t ruin their day over it.
Anticipate Sticky Issues
Not every meeting provides an excuse to sing “kumbaya.” Sometimes, you have to deliver a hard message or get insight on a difficult decision. This can lead to hurt feelings and high-intensity emotions.
If your meeting has a sensitive topic, prepare for a difficult discussion. Provide time for people to air their opinions, though you should enforce professionalism at all times.
Sometimes, these hot-button meetings need a professional touch, a trained outsider who can ensure the discussion remains civil and productive. In that case, consider hiring an issue resolution facilitator. These third-party mediators can steer the conversation to a more productive conclusion.
Have a Post-Meeting Action Plan
Very little actually happens at a meeting. It’s mostly a venue to make decisions. The actual work happens after the meeting, when the individual participants enact their role in the decision that was made.
Therefore, having a productive meeting requires an effective follow up. Leave the meeting with a clear action plan, with everyone knowing their assigned mission. Stay in communication with everyone who attended to make sure they are moving forward with their part.
Sylvia Peters is a Collaborator for Find A Facilitator and a mother of two. She’s also an expert to bringing the most credible, experienced and personable facilitation to every meeting she attended. In her free time you will find her meditating and making her favorite salad.