The average employee attends a mind-boggling 62 meetings a month, and that HALF of this time is considered as wasted, a total of 31 hours a month, according to research quoted in a post over on the Marketcircle blog. Bloody hell. That's a LOT of time wasted.
Market circle had some handy suggestions making meetings more effective, many of which I've found to be useful when planning brandgym workshops. I share some of the key points below.
Sounds like the bleeding obvious, right? But how many times have you sat in a meeting where there is no clear objective or goal? Job 1 is to make sure there is clearly defined objective for your meeting and that everyone attending knows what this is, before they walk in the door.
2. Limit the invite list
This is always an important but tricky part of every brandgym workshop. As Marketcircle say, "It’s tempting to invite everyone on a team to a meeting so you can get everyone’s input." However, as they go on to rightly observe, "This is where meetings start to become a waste of people’s time." I use two criteria to determine who needs to attend a meeting or workshop:
i. are they a key ideas person who will add real value to the discussion?
ii. are they vital for buy-in and alignment to your project?
You should have some people who meet both of these criteria, and the other should meet one of them. But if they meet neither criteria, then what the hell are they doing on the invite list? Cut the "passengers" along for the ride, or the "trainees" there to learn the ropes.
3. Get the right info before AND during the meeting
Getting the right pre-read and pre-work saves time in the actual workshop. But more important, I suggest, is what people present IN the meeting or workshop. This is an area where we spend a huge amount of time preparing a brandgym workshop. The tendency is for "death by Powerpoint", where people utter the dreaded phrase, "I just have a few charts to show, can I plug in my laptop?" This normally means they have a 100 page deck they say they can "flick through quickly". Agh.
We invest time to review all presentations before any workshop, and cut these down to the juicy stuff that will really ignite ideas. We also make use of simple 1-page pro-formas that allow people to summarise key information in a consistent and easily comparable way. The watch out here though is to keep and such proforma is simple and where possible visual.
4. Start on time, finish on time
A lot the hours wasted on meetings are caused by them starting and also ending late. As Marketcircle suggest, "If you keep waiting for people to start a meeting, they’ll keep coming in late. To break the habit, close the door and start your meeting on time." The key here is to lead by example. If the senior people are disrespectful with other peoples' time, by turning up late or starting their own meetings late, it becomes a toxic culture of lateness. But you can lead by example with your own meetings and people.
5. Assign a meeting facilitator
"It’s easy to get off topic and go off on tangents," as the Marketcircle post points out. This is why it really helps to have a facilitator to manage the process, helping to bring the team back to the purpose and goal of the meeting. If the project is important enough (WARNING: blatant plug arriving now) it may be worth investing in an expert facilitator to design, prepare and run your meeting or workshop. Alternatively, in a smaller meeting, make sure one person from the team has the job to do, including keeping things on track and noting down actions.
6. Define action items
This is another basic principle, but one that is ignored in so many meetings. After a discussion on a given point, make sure the 3 W's are clearly captured: WHO will do WHAT by WHEN? And ensure that every action has a clear owner against it, not a committee of people.
In conclusion, why not have this checklist at the ready when you plan your next meeting. You might find it saves some of those 31 hours of time lost in unproductive meetings every month!
For more tips on effective meetings, see this post on Mattel's move to cut down on the number of meetings.