I have always fervently believed that the best meeting is no meeting at all. Sometimes – very occasionally – meetings are truly necessary, but most of the time they are huge time-wasters for everyone involved.
And, worse still, meetings are the very worst kind of time-waster in that they involve multiple people and give the participants the illusion of “doing work.”
But meetings almost never involve the type of work that truly matters at your business (namely, generating new leads, improving the experience for your current customers, increasing revenue, or hammering out systems that save you real time and/or money).
The next time you’re tempted to schedule a meeting, keep the following 8 guidelines in mind:
1. Be mindful of the real time expenditure. If you schedule a one-hour meeting for eight people, you are devoting eight total hours of your company’s time to it – an entire business day. What you’re planning to cover may in fact be worth it – but it may not.
2. Watch out for “but it’s what we’ve always done!” thinking. Just because you’ve always had, say, a one-hour weekly staff meeting doesn’t mean you need to continue to do so.
Is there a solid reason, other than tradition, to continue having it? Would a group email serve just as well? Or could you have the meeting just once a month – or even once every other month – instead of once a week? Is it possible that maybe the meeting doesn’t need to happen at all?
3. Limit the number of participants. In general, there are just a few key people who truly need to be at any given meeting; the other attendees are there on an FYI basis. If someone can be adequately filled in after the fact, do that instead and let them off the meeting hook.
4. Beware of meeting creep. Meetings, like almost everything else in life, will expand to fill the time allotted. If you schedule a one-hour meeting, it will invariably take an hour and then some. Try cutting it down to half an hour – and get ruthless about both starting and ending on time. You’ll be surprised how much you can fit in when you’re watching the clock.
5. Have a clear, written agenda – and stick to it. It’s amazing how many meetings are scheduled “just because,” with no clear sense of what they’re meant to convey or accomplish. The person calling the meeting should also be in charge of providing a written agenda to all participants in advance, and making sure that people don’t get off topic.
6. Establish next steps. The last few minutes of any meeting should be devoted to clarifying next steps and nailing down who’s doing what, when. If there are no actionable next steps, that’s a meeting fail.
7. Ditch the minutes. Unless you’re required to keep minutes of a given meeting for legal or other reasons, don’t bother. Hold individual participants accountable for writing down the parts of the meeting that directly affect them.
8. Remember that meetings are not bonding time. There’s always a temptation to hold meetings for the purpose of “touching base” or creating a sense of group cohesion. But meetings are simply not the best vehicle for this. Have an occasional staff dinner or fun weekend activity offsite (make these optional, or paid time if they’re mandatory) if you want people to bond; just don’t frame it under the guise of a meeting. Your staff will thank you for it.