How to Make Sure Your Meetings Aren’t Time-Wasters

Sep 9, 2010 | Corporate Member News

Staff meetings, project-status updates, training sessions, videoconferences, performance reviews, brainstorming sessions, management pow-wows, monthly staff socials – no matter what type business you run, your calendar is likely packed with gatherings such as these. Meetings are a standard feature of business life for a reason: They can be a good way to foster collaboration, resolve problems, improve processes or strengthen team cohesion. 

Not every meeting is mission-critical, however, and some could probably be eliminated without repercussions. In fact, executives polled in a Robert Half International survey said that 28 percent of meetings they attend are a waste of time. Given the time it takes to prepare for meetings, along with post-meeting follow-up, unnecessary meetings represent a significant block of time for most managers that could be better spent elsewhere. 

Periodically take a fresh look at your company’s meetings. The goal is not to do away with meetings entirely, but rather make those you do hold more productive. The following guidelines will help you turn time wasters into useful, purposeful gatherings. 

Question habit

Some meetings occur simply because they always have. One example is weekly staff meetings where everyone gets together for an hour or more to “touch base” with no clear agenda. This type of meeting is often maintained despite workloads that are peaking, deadlines that are looming and participants who don’t really have time to spare.  

If you’re about to call a meeting out of long-standing habit, critically evaluate whether it still serves its original purpose. You may decide to shorten it or decrease the frequency – switching from weekly to bi-monthly, for example. Another option is to poll participants to determine an appropriate frequency. 

Keep it focused

Some meetings waste time because they’re rambling and digressive, due either to the lack of an agenda or one that’s too ambitious. Keep your meetings from turning into marathons by putting the agenda in writing and limiting the number of topics you’ll cover. In general, a one-page agenda is the maximum reasonable length. 

When you have a lot of material to cover, a good alternative is to hold a series of brief, single-subject meetings. If your company is rolling out a new product, for example, you might decide to hold individual meetings about distribution, advertising and promotional events, rather than trying to cover all these topics in a single long session. 

Select location wisely

To minimize interruptions that could prolong your meeting, choose a space that’s away from high-traffic areas of the office. A conference room at the end of the hallway, for example, is better than one near the printers or the break room. 

If the team needs to concentrate for a sustained period of time, it may make sense to gather at an offsite location, such as a dedicated conference space. While off-sites can sharpen people’s focus, be careful not to overuse this strategy. Meetings out of the office require travel time, which can end up eating into your schedule. 

Limit Participants

As you develop the agenda for your next meeting, consider whether all invitees are involved in every item you plan to cover. You may find that some participants need only attend a portion of the meeting to provide input on a particular issue. Another idea is asking each division or department to send one representative who will give colleagues a summary afterward. Similarly, when you’re invited to a meeting, ask which topics will be covered to determine if your attendance is strictly necessary. You may be able to send a representative in your stead. 

Streamline the Presentation

In an effort to liven up potentially dull meetings and keep participants’ attention from flagging, some organizers rely heavily on the use of visual elements, technological enhancements and interactive components. While these tactics may engage the audience, avoid becoming overly dependent on them. A detailed slide presentation, multiple hand-outs, elaborate visuals or clever games can easily cause a meeting to run longer than it really should.

Given the variety of communication technologies such as e-mail and company intranets, you may be able to eliminate some meetings entirely. Your best strategy could be adhering to a policy of reserving in-person meetings for sensitive or confidential exchanges of information or when immediate feedback is essential. 

About Robert Half International

Founded in 1948, Robert Half International, the world’s first and largest specialized staffing firm, is a recognized leader in professional staffing services. The company’s specialized staffing divisions include Accountemps(R), Robert Half(R) Finance & Accounting and Robert Half(R) Management Resources, for temporary, full-time and senior-level project professionals, respectively, in the fields of accounting and finance; OfficeTeam(R), for highly skilled temporary administrative support personnel; Robert Half(R) Technology, for information technology professionals; Robert Half(R) Legal, for legal personnel; and The Creative Group(R), for advertising, marketing and web professionals. Robert Half International has staffing and consulting operations in more than 400 locations worldwide.

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