Company meetings are either time well spent to move work along and benefit everyone in attendance, or they are the absolute bane of your existence. Which of these categories your meetings fall into depends mainly on how productive they are. A highly productive work meeting is actually pretty tough to achieve, which is probably why a lot of people thoroughly despise them.
Practicing some simple, regular habits and adherence to a structure, however, can turn your meetings from loose, chaotic disasters, into concentrated sessions that really get things done. Once you pinpoint the things that are derailing your meetings, it’s actually not all that difficult to have very productive work meetings, which is exactly what you’ll learn in this article.
Unfocused Meetings Are, Indeed, a Waste of Time
If you don’t accomplish anything during your meetings, then you’re not just imagining it–your meetings really are a waste of time. It’s basically just a social gathering at that point.
A lack of leadership, focus, or an agenda makes a meeting chaotic, which makes it unproductive, and unproductive meetings waste time that employees could be using to do actual work. There are times when you really need the meeting, too, but if you let it go off the rails, that time is just going to be wasted.
Meetings Are Sometimes Very Necessary
The opinion professionals have on company meetings is very much split. Many owners and managers consider meetings to be unnecessary, so they end up hardly ever having one, but that can be problematic because there are a variety of reasons that we need to get together from time to time.
Those who see meetings as completely useless argue that the time spent in any meeting could be spent doing real work. Though there is certainly truth to that, there are many occasions when they’re needful. You might just need to get everybody on the same page with something that’s complicated or having trouble getting off the ground.
When that is the case, it’s likely that you can much better explain and clarify things in-person, than you could through an email or a text message. Any kind of presentation is also naturally more suited for an in-person meeting.
That’s an obvious example, but what if you need to literally get people together because they will be starting a large, multi-departmental project, or if you simply need to introduce new team members to the group? There isn’t really a more efficient way to do that than getting them in a room together. Pretty much anything that is in the planning stages, for that matter, can be well-served with a meeting.
Have Fewer, More Productive Meetings
So, we’ve all probably worked for an organization that never held meetings, not even a monthly staff meeting, but there’s another side to that coin. Some business owners love meetings so much that they seem to be constantly calling everybody in to meet in-person, which can not only drive staff completely crazy, but unnecessarily uses up a ton of everyone’s valuable time.
These kind of owners seem to feel that everything needs to be done face-to-face, which it absolutely does not. If the reason you’re meeting up every day, or once a week, is only because it’s a habit or you just enjoy everyone’s company that much, then it’s definitely time to reevaluate your meeting habits. This means that you’re going to be manufacturing things to talk about, or worse, you’ll be inventing problems that never existed in the first place.
Even if everybody enjoys the constant meetings, that’s not why you should be getting together because everyone’s time is valuable and can be far better utilized doing their jobs. Save those get-togethers for social gatherings.
It’s also possible that the reason you meet all the time is because you never seem to get to all the items you planned, and this is precisely why it’s so important to have well-organized, focused meetings. You can then meet far less often, concentrating only on needful items and condensing your time to significantly shorten the length of meetings.
Come Prepared to Meetings
This is possibly the most important point, and the most common way that people have time-wasting meetings. When you go into the meeting without a clear agenda that details what you’re going to discuss or resolve, you’ve pretty much guaranteed that it’s going to be unproductive and take way longer than it should. Whomever is leading the meeting should have it written out, exactly what they intend to go over.
Additionally, when you do prepare your notes for a meeting, it’s a good idea to keep the agenda items as concise and specific as possible because when the ideas to be discussed are more general, this can cause you to spend more time than you need to and extend the meeting longer than it should be.
That being said, the leader is not the only one who should come prepared. Everyone who’s invited also needs to be ready, as well. A great way to get everybody on the same page before you meet is to email attendees the meeting agenda, along with anything else they need to have prepared ahead of time.
Make sure they also understand that if they want to bring something up, they have to let the person who called the meeting know beforehand, to make them aware of it and to see if it’s something that even needs to be on the agenda.
To have an efficient meeting that stays as short as possible, stick to your predetermined points and moderate the meeting as needed. You might even want to appoint someone to moderate and prevent it from going off the rails.
Watch Your Time
Meetings should always start on time and end on time. Since everybody works together and most of the staff probably enjoy each other’s company, it’s easy to get distracted by conversations.
While it’s great to be friendly and joke around, remember that you’ve got a specific agenda that has to be completed, so try not to get off topic. If you recorded your meetings and listened back to it, you’d probably be surprised how much it wanders off task due to people socializing with each other.
Another thing is that everyone needs to be present on time. Start the meeting without people if they’re late, and they’ll get the idea that you aren’t going to wait for them because there is serious work to be done. There should be a set end time, as well, never an open-ended loose schedule for the meeting because who knows when you’ll get out of there if you don’t set a time. Then, stop the meeting when you say you’re going stop.
This could take a lot of practice for some companies, especially if you’re used to having a very loose structure and schedule. Once your meetings become more focused, you’ll find that they don’t take nearly as long, and when you get good at this, you can probably be done in 15 minutes for most meetings. They should rarely take up to an hour to finish.
Does Everyone Need to Be There?
A frequent mistake that people make is to invite an entire department, all department heads, or even the entire staff to every meeting. Unless it’s some kind of emergency, or the occasional full staff meeting, you should only invite the people who really need to be there.
Everyone else can continue working instead of attending for no reason. This also helps a great deal with the focus of the meeting because there are fewer people there to distract or interject, so it can save a lot of time.
Some Discussions Can Be Held with Individuals
Here is something that you may not even realize that you’re doing during meetings because though it seems like a natural course of the proceedings, in reality, it’s taking it off of its focus. Not every item or issue needs to be brought up with the group; a lot of items can be saved for a one-on-one conversation with an individual, instead of distracting from a meeting.
It happens more often than you might think. People start discussing things with each other, or openly bringing it out to the group when it’s really just two people publicly talking only to each other.
When this happens, though that might be a valuable conversation between those two people, it can significantly lengthen a meeting. Be sure to moderate this as much as you can during the course of your meeting and save those discussions for later between those people whom it concerns.
Don’t Stop Having Meetings; Start Having Better Meetings
When you start to get the feeling that your meetings are becoming a waste of time, don’t make the mistake of just stopping them altogether. Meetings are an important device for keeping a company running smoothly, and your staff can definitely benefit from them if they’re well-organized and productive.
Instead of giving up on meeting together due to frustration, use these tips to solve your time-wasting problems. You will find that, once you begin conducting meetings properly, you won’t have to meet as often, everyone attending comes away with value, and they won’t take as long. Your meetings are not useless; they could just use a little focus.
Stephanie is the Marketing Director at Talkroute and has been featured in Forbes, Inc, and Entrepreneur as a leading authority on business and telecommunications.
Stephanie is also the chief editor and contributing author for the Talkroute blog helping more than 100k entrepreneurs to start, run, and grow their businesses.