Are your meetings a complete waste of time? These nine meeting commandments will make them more productive - and cut wasted time

Adrian Hipkiss
Feeling the urge to catch some shut-eye during a meeting? (Source: Getty)

In a world where instant online communication seems to dominate, it looks like we still prefer to meet face-to-face or at least voice-to-voice to get things done.

The average worker currently spends 37 per cent of their week in meetings, be that in person or via video or audio conferencing. This is not a figure that is likely to go down, as technology increasingly enables more frequent collaboration across the globe. More and more, we spend our working hours conversing with colleagues and clients on the other side of the world.

But, think honestly about your last meeting. How well did it really go down with your team? While meetings are meant to encourage teamwork and the sharing of vital information, the brutal truth is that sometimes they simply make it harder to get anything done at work.

“I’m stuck in a meeting” has never felt more painfully true.

Yet it doesn’t have to be this way. Meetings are but another challenge of the workplace; one that can be solved with a little forward thinking.

Try the nine meeting commandments on for size

1. Thou shalt send a decent agenda (and not at the last minute)

An obvious point, but one often neglected. A proper agenda will cover topics, goals, required attendees, materials needed and – most important for an effective meeting – a clear start and finish time.

2. Thou shalt not fear video conferencing technology

It is important to get into the habit of using conferencing tools, even when you don’t have materials to share. Good software will allow you to post your agenda as a visual reminder of the meeting activities, and will even facilitate a non-disruptive queue for asking questions.

3. Thou shalt not wait for stragglers

It can be tempting to delay the meeting to wait for latecomers, but in reality this just punishes those who actually turned up on time. If you have a solid agenda and an in-depth transcript, any latecomers can read up on what they missed in their own time.

4. Thou shalt introduce your team properly

As the leader, it’s your choice how you want to do this. Some prefer to have one person as an introducer, while others like to do a quick once-round the room to allow everyone to provide a short overview of themselves. Either way, it is your job to make sure this happens.

5. Thou shalt not get distracted by unnecessary tech

Shut down all inessential apps and devices. Email, instant messenger and the internet in general are all very helpful, but in meetings they turn into a hindrance. This is especially important if you are sharing your desktop, unless you want everyone in the room to read your incoming or recent communications.

6. Thou shalt not let the conversation wander

While it is good to treat everyone with courtesy, being overly polite in a meeting is likely to result in the conversation being hijacked and the topics moving swiftly beyond the agenda. Keep focused, bring the conversation back to where it needs to be and table any relevant points for another discussion.

7. Thou shalt watch the clock

As leader it is crucial that you always keep your eye on your watch, and signal clearly the midway point. It is also helpful to give a 10-minute warning before the end of the meeting. Good time keeping will help with focus and motivate attendees to accomplish all they set out to do.

8. Thou shalt summarise

What goals were achieved? Are the next steps defined? Who owns which action? All these questions must be asked before the end of the session.

9. Thou shalt take notes

Ensure that thorough notes are taken throughout, which can then be summarised and distributed (always within 24 hours). It may be worth investing in a conferencing solution that allows you to record the meeting so it can be sent around in addition to the notes.

The way you manage meetings is a pure reflection of how you operate as a leader. That extra work you put in – the agenda, the notes, the following up – is testament to your desire for a successful meeting that meets all specified objectives. It also shows you value everyone’s time.

With these nine commandments in mind, there’s no excuse for ever leaving a meeting feeling like it was an hour down the drain.

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

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