Business meetings are an integral part of our working lives – yet they often disappoint. Keeping everyone engaged and on-topic, maintaining the pace, ensuring accurate record-keeping: they can all be a challenge.
Whether you’re an experienced chairperson or a humble note-taker, you might be forgiven for sighing when Outlook sends you that gentle five-minute reminder. Research shows our business meetings culture has expanded hugely in the last fifty years. In the 1960s, executives might expect to spend 10 hours a week in meetings; now it’s an average of almost 23 hours a week.
In interviews conducted by the Harvard Business Review last year, respondents described themselves as ‘overwhelmed by their meetings—whether formal or informal, traditional or agile, face-to-face or electronically mediated. One said, “I cannot get my head above water to breathe during the week.” Another described stabbing her leg with a pencil to stop from screaming during a particularly torturous staff meeting.’
It doesn’t have to be this way.
Here are 5 simple tricks to help keep your business meetings on track.
Think like Amazon
The online monolith Amazon have succeeded in growing every area of the business, without the growing workforce gradually losing more and more time to meetings. How? By following the ‘two-pizza rule.’ No individual team should ever expand beyond a group that can comfortably be fed by two pizzas.
Apply the same rule to your meetings. Fewer people means no one feels they’re wasting their time, and everyone has to contribute.
Watch the clock
An agenda alone won’t ensure a timely finish. But accompany it with a firm application of timing rules, and you won’t find yourself facing a roomful of attendees checking their phones.
The best meetings end early, and should never end late. Work through the agenda, and move things along on a clear schedule. If it helps, use a colleague as a timekeeper, who can signal when you need to wrap up a point. Alternatively, automate the process. O3World developed Roombot as an app to sync attendees’ Google Calendars, taking control of the lighting in a room and dimming it to indicate the end of a session.
If it’s not on the agenda, it’s not going in
Most meetings struggle to cover the entire agenda in the allotted time. That means when off-topic discussion arises, you can guarantee you’ll overrun.
If you’re chairing, it’s your job to keep these items from clouding your objective, without losing the opportunity to engage with valid points. How? By ‘parking’ them for later. Keep a separate area of the minutes for the parked items raised, and follow these up as needed.
Record your meeting
It might sound counterintuitive, but recording a meeting as a digital audio file or video can profoundly impact their usefulness.
You don’t even have to listen back to the recording; attendees are more likely to engage if they know that accountability check is present. But those recordings can be invaluable for ensuring valuable discussion isn’t lost to confusing or incomplete minutes. They can also be used by new starters or meeting absentees, to catch up on the latest developments.
Select your venue
Choosing a space that sets the right tone can make a bigger difference than you might expect. It’s tempting to gather around your desk or in a small designated area – but does that differentiate from your team’s other work effectively? How seriously do you take that meeting?