Optimizing Meetings: A Foolproof Formula to Stop Wasting Time

chidera OnyeaguborLEADERSHIP

optimizing meetings

Optimizing meetings are now more important as we are now replacing our physical meetings with digital ones. Since the beginning of the pandemic, I have said that the dysfunctions we had before the pandemic are only amplified with the pandemic, they didn’t start with the pandemic. Meetings are one of those areas of dysfunction.

Meetings are vital to run your business – but how you run them can make or break your productivity individually and as a team. What contributes and what detracts from meeting effectiveness.

As Brian Tracy rightly says:

“Meetings are not evil. Meetings are a necessary business tool for solving problems, exchanging information, and reviewing progress”.

But that doesn’t mean all of that has to be done in the same meeting, and thanks to technology, this doesn’t mean it has to be in a meeting form. Meetings can be costly and wasteful if factors such as unstructured meetings, poorly defined objectives, long meetings, latecomers, and no-shows rule the day.

Some statistics state that 15% of time spent in each meeting is wasted time and starts 6 minutes late; that wasted time adds up quickly when you multiple that by the number of employees you have, the number of meetings they attend, and the average salary.  In 2020, Booqed did a study on wasted time in meetings and had some shocking statistics. Another by Lucid in 2015 speaks of meetings cost the U.S. between $70 to $283 billion a year. In this time and age, when half our employees and clients are worldwide and virtual, there is an even greater danger of having ineffective meetings.

Here is a snapshot of a study I conducted in April of 2020 for a few organizations where leaders felt they were efficient in their meeting culture. You might be surprised when you ask your team.

study about optimizing meetings for core meeting management

Wasted time in a meeting paradoxically slows progress by reduces the time you have to concentrate on the goals and tasks. Keep in mind it is not only the wasted time in meetings that creates a significant decline in productivity.

It is the collateral impact compounded poorly run meetings. The collateral impact of back-to-back meetings, meetings that start late or run over, and being a bi-standard in meetings that you don’t need to create longer working hours, more stress,  and less focus.

This leads to a work-life imbalance,  higher levels of burnout, less creativity, less efficiency, and missed workdays (these are the hidden costs of inefficient meetings).

This article will share timeless tips to perfect your meeting management and say goodbye to unstructured meetings, among others. But first, let’s differentiate a successful meeting from one that isn’t successful.

 

What makes a productive meeting?

As I have defined in my best-selling book, The Productivity Zone, productivity is efficient and effective. Running a productive meeting is more than setting a time and place that works for everyone. It’s even more than starting and stopping on time. It is more than having an agenda. Keep in mind most teams don’t even get this right. So you need to begin there to start optimizing your meetings.

Efficient and effective meeting management is about achieving a result and creating the ground rules, order, and structure to result productively.

Also, see this article on Tug Of War With Time.

Our meeting culture has changed but has it improved?  The results are we are meeting more daily.

These daily check-ins.

For some, this may be an improvement. For others, it might be a sign of micro-management.

We need to be intentional about optimizing meetings and making them practical and productive based on the team and the organizational objectives.

All we’ve talked about to this moment are little tips on optimizing your meetings, but we will dig a little deeper in this article.

optimizing meetings what professionals believe achieves successful meetings

Overall, design meetings that will reflect your team values and reinforce what's most important Click To Tweet

10 Effective Hacks For Optimizing Meetings

1. Avoid unstructured meetings.

Never start a meeting without clear objectives and goals. They are awful for productivity, and people are never on the same page.
If you call the meeting, you are responsible for sending out an agenda before the meeting. Some companies encourage attendees not to attend a meeting with no agenda to hold the meeting organizer responsible. To work, you have to empower the team to hold each other accountable no matter the rank.

Also, stay away from the gotta-minute meetings where you interrupt someone while they are working. Collect your points and call a short meeting with a clear objective. If you have delegated work to someone, set up agreed check-ins and give that person autonomy to do the work and solve their own problems, knowing they have specific check-in points and times of day to ask questions.

Here is a link to a private video from my 14 day-time study on got-a minute meetings

Structured meetings help you stay on target. Have a parking lot, a list of items that may come up but not relevant to the meeting. The meeting organizer can discuss how to handle parking lot items.

2. Focus on topics requiring the team’s input

Define your teams’ work and separate topics where individuals have clear accountability. Focus meeting items on topics where the team’s input can change its approach and impact.

To make this work, you also have to create a collaborative culture across all departments, so meeting times are spent on the most critical issues. At the same time, each department member can meet the next for one-to-one conversations elsewhere.

3. One purpose per meeting

Do not try to accomplish too many things in one meeting. Each purpose may require a different audience. Is this meeting a status update, a brainstorming, or a planning meeting? Each has a different purpose and should be a separate meeting. By doing this, you will get more accomplished in those meetings, prepare effectively, and have the right people in the room. Discussing too many things in one meeting might make it harder for your team members to follow and take committed action afterward.

Consider breaking u your meetings so each meeting focuses on a specific goal or sets of similar goals. This might also mean creating different meeting rhythms as frequency might vary based on topic and meeting type.

According to Patrick Lencioni in his book ‘Death by Meeting, he said:

“To make our meetings more effective, we need to have multiple types of meetings and clearly distinguish between the various purposes, formats, and timing of those meetings”. 

Recommended Reading: Time Blocking and Scheduling; 9 Crucial Tactics and Apps To Rock Your Day

4. Focus on delays and bottlenecks

Spending time reviewing information people already have access to in a project management system is a waste of time.  Focus time in a meeting on the issues, problems, and bottlenecks people are experiencing to focus on any issues resulting from the team based on those delays.

To focus on delays and bottlenecks, you will need to manage your meeting action items on a project management system to create and track meeting-related tasks with ease. Then this information is available to the team and doesn’t need to be discussed in detail in the meeting. It provides a comprehensive overview and can be added to at the end of every meeting if new actions have occurred or update priorities as circumstances may have changed.

You can use some project management tools for that purpose, including Trello, Monday.com, Basecamp, and Asana.

5. Optimize Frequency

Lucid has created a matrix to examine the recommended frequency based on the nature of the work.

They believe there are two main factors you should consider when establishing your team’s meeting cadence.

  • Independence vs. Interdependence: How much do the people in the group rely on one another to achieve their goals?
  • Predictability vs. Uncertainty: If the environment is complex and rapidly changing and there is uncertainty around tasks and priorities, teams should meet more often.

Here is Lucid’s frequency matrix; review the article for a few examples of how this works in various organizations.

matrix for optimizing meetings

It is critical that in situations like COVID-19, when uncertainty increases, you meet more often initially to communicate clearly on the situation, your circumstances and provide transparency. Include your team in discussing the updates, meeting frequency, and effectiveness of meetings and adapting your meeting culture accordingly based on the work and the need for contact.

6. Make meeting-free mornings

Meetings are taking over your time and leave no time for working. It is hardly possible to get any deep work done in one hour between meetings.

What if, as a team or organizations, don’t allow meetings on one day of the week so that you can leave out an entire day for creative time, focused effort, and deep dives. If you couldn’t do it for a whole day, what about no meetings until after 11:00 AM? This would give your team the most productive hours of the day to focus.

According to Daniel Pink’s bestselling author When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing, timing is everything. His book examines the psychology, biology, and economics behind scheduling for optimal effect — and why your ideal time to get something done may widely differ from someone else’s.

Kristen Knutson also talks about our best productive time is based on our circadian rhythm. 9:30 AM is one of the peak times for productivity, so better we don’t spend that in meetings.

Research shows four hours of solid morning work is more productive than spreading it over 12 hours.

7. Add buffer time or transition time

Back-to-back meetings are draining, cause delays for other meetings, encourage multi-tasking as people check email, and people arrive unprepared, dehydrated, and hungry. Not a recipe for a successful meeting.

Parkinslaw tells us we will use any time that is allotted, so a lot less time. It is that simple. If you want to be more efficient, give yourself less time to do it. Make a 60 min meeting 45 min. This will force the team to create an agenda and stay on target.

The impact on team energy will go up, allow people to take a quick break, check some emails, and be present and prepared for the meeting.

According to HBR.org, planning for overflow by scheduling a regular overflow spot is also a great idea.

8. Avoid inviting too many people

However, Jason Fried paints a better picture about the actual cost of meetings:

“If you’re going to schedule a meeting that lasts one hour and invite ten people to attend, then it’s a ten-hour meeting and not a one-hour meeting. You are trading 10 hours of productivity for one hour of meeting time.”

The words of Sisse Haldrup from First Agenda also echoes the same thing:

“The fewer the people, the faster you can accomplish your meeting goals.”

Therefore, to create a more productive meeting, you need to be sure that everyone in that meeting are meant to be there. There’s no need to discuss a large version of the team if they don’t need to be there. That only wastes their time, which in turn stops the meeting from becoming productive. It also increases the chances of going off the topic.

My tip-do yourself a favor before your next invite and ask yourself who would be fine with a summary and leave them off the invitation list.

 

Fewer people, defined timelines, and a structured strategy are just the ingredients for a successful meeting.' Click To Tweet

 

9. Empower contribution

One of the tenets of strong leadership qualities is receiving meaningful contributions from your people. Be a facilitator, not the core contributor.

So, according to Graham Allcot, you need to avoid becoming the ‘HiPPO’:

His words to explain the “HiPPO effect:

“A HiPPO is the Highest Paid Person’s Opinion. The HiPPO in a meeting is usually the most senior. When a HiPPO talks, they set the tone for everyone else’s responses. Suppose we hear the HiPPO, and we previously had an opposing view. In that case, we tend to keep quiet, or severely dampen down that viewpoint to bring it more into line with the new prevailing norm”.

This is a common issue I have witnessed as a keynote speaker and facilitator. Allowing this to happen increases the risks of killing the innovative and creative abilities of your team.

To create better chances of valuable meetings, consider using these strategies:

  • Make an effort to speak last about your decisions
  • be brief and humble in your contributions
  • Ask questions more than you give answers
  • Offer praise for other people’s ideas
  • create space for healthy analysis, dissent, and disagreement

This sentiment is equally shared by Patrick Lencioni in his book, Death of Meeting ( Click here to check out the book): “ironically, most leaders of meetings go out of their way to eliminate or minimize drama and avoid the healthy conflict that results from it, which only drains the interest of employees.”

10. Ask for feedback

feedback for unstructured meetingAccording to Zapier, meeting feedback polls can help you gain more insights about your meetings and their effectiveness. Peter High equally shares this sentiment at CIO Network, who said that some organizations keep recycling the same agenda and meeting systems that are not working.

The best way to make sure you have created an environment that yields greater value to your team, your leaders, and your customers is by asking for feedback.

Ask questions in your poll about meeting topics, lengths, and so on. Make answers anonymous, so you can receive honest feedback on making your meetings more thoughtful and meaningful.

Final Thoughts

Your meeting management depends on your awareness of the current culture and your willingness to change. No two business environments are equal, so you will need to examine your environment together with your team. This article should get you thinking to challenge your current practices, test some new ways of working and look for ways to provide more value in less time. Optimizing your meetings is a great start.

You can also work with a productivity expert like me to help you gain real awareness of working or not working in your environment and create a plan for a more productive meeting culture.

Would you like to check out more information on optimizing meetings for the better? you can check out Patrick Lencioni’s  book, Death by Meeting

(Check on Amazon)

(Check on Amazon)

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