- Team members are fed up with meetings.That’s the conclusion of countless studies, including a report by Harvard Business Review, which found 70 percent of survey participants believed meetings are both inefficient and unproductive. Those surveyed felt meetings can be a letdown in several ways; for example, they may prevent team members from completing work, inhibit deep thinking, or waste opportunities to build greater camaraderie in the team.Nevertheless, meetings are often a necessary evil. So how can your team make meetings more bearable and effective?
One of the best ways to enjoy more productive business meetings is to establish ground rules in advance. Far from being constrictive, those thoughtfully developed rules can actually increase creativity and productivity, and facilitate problem solving.
If you’re not sure where to start, consider setting the following ground rules for meetings.
Rules for productive meetings
- Define the meeting’s purpose
- Limit the number of participants
- Respect everyone’s time
- Remain open to different people, experiences, and ideas
- Eliminate multi-tasking
- Identify key takeaways
The most effective ground rules for meetings
Define the meeting’s purpose
Too often, teams get in the habit of showing up for meetings simply because they’ve scheduled them. But meetings aren’t always necessary. If there’s nothing new to report, it’s a waste of everyone’s time to call a meeting for the sole purpose of sharing updates.
To avoid wasting time, prior to scheduling the meeting make sure there’s a clearly defined purpose for it. If that purpose can be accomplished with an email or phone call, do that instead. If you do move forward with a meeting, make sure all attendees are aware of the purpose (and the agenda) in advance so they have time to come prepared. Also at the beginning of each meeting remind everyone of the intended purpose.
Limit the number of participants
Standing-room-only meetings are rarely worth anyone’s time. They don’t facilitate conversation, and some voices dominate while others are left out. What’s more, it’s unlikely you’ll achieve agreement among 100 (or even 20) people in the span of an hour-long meeting.
To make things more productive, invite only those people who are truly necessary. A general rule is to limit the number of participants to 10 or less. As a bonus, this means people who aren’t necessary to the meeting can stay focused on work.
Respect everyone’s time
Time-wasting is a major complaint when it comes to meetings, so it’s essential to avoid this pitfall. To that end:
- Don’t schedule meetings at times when people’s energy is likely to waver, such as the end of the day on Friday or earlier than team members’ usual start time.
- Whenever possible, avoid scheduling meetings that are longer than one hour. Better yet: Keep meetings to 30 minutes or less.
- Start the meeting on time. After 15 minutes, lock the door to prevent late arrivals from causing disruptions.
- Encourage participants to keep their conversations relevant to the purpose at hand.
- Begin wrapping up the meeting prior to its scheduled end so everyone can walk out the door on time.
Remain open to different people, experiences, and ideas
This is essential for creativity and teambuilding. Here are some ways to implement this ground rule.
- Avoid getting personal. Instead of attacking others, make a point of engaging with ideas. Always maintain a respectful and constructive approach.
- Try to eliminate notions of hierarchy. Everyone’s voice should matter equally during the conversation.
- Embrace different communication styles. Extroverts tend to enjoy talking a lot, while introverts may hang back for a while before weighing in. Make space for everyone and notice if certain voices dominate the whole discussion so you can adjust next time.
- Commit to understanding. Rather than conjuring assumptions about other people or their ideas, ask follow-up questions so everyone can share information, inspiration, and reasoning without being needlessly dismissed.
- Look for opportunities to come together. Remind everyone that you are all on the same team, and try to align around a shared vision, goal, or set of values.
Meetings are most productive when everyone present is actually present and focused on the task at hand. Discourage multi-tasking with the following strategies.
- Institute a no cell phone policy during meetings. It may be useful to have a “cell phone coat check” at the door of the meeting room; team members can retrieve their phones at the end of the meeting.
- Whenever possible, discourage the use of laptops during meetings. Research suggests using laptops in a lecture setting may reduce memory retention and learning, so there’s good reason to believe the same is true for meetings. What’s more, eliminating electronics from the room can encourage interpersonal connections. Consider providing notepads and writing implements in lieu of laptops.
- Avoid holding meetings over lunch, as it can be difficult for people to prep and enjoy food while remaining focused.
Identify key takeaways
Prior to ending a meeting, make sure everyone is on the same page regarding next steps. Sum up the main takeaways from the meeting, make sure you have group buy-in on those takeaways, assign action items, and make sure everyone is clear about who is responsible for what. This helps ensure that something worthwhile arises from the time and energy people devoted to the meeting.
For ground rules to be effective, it’s important to get feedback from your team. Your list may look like the one above, or it could be slightly different depending your team’s needs, work styles, and other factors.
Once you agree on a shared set of expectations, advertise these ground rules throughout the office and remind everyone at the start of each meeting. Encourage team members to hold each other accountable, and revisit the ground rules on a regular basis to make sure they’re still working. By having more intentional meetings, you can increase the odds of improving your team’s workflow and output.