Feature Article: “Meetings! Where Minutes are Kept and Hours are Wasted.”

A survey respondent told me, “Meetings are my big timewaster. I have literally spent entire days in meetings. I not only get nothing done at my desk but also inherit additional work. I suppose if I could wish for one thing it would fewer meetings. Hey, I can dream, can’t I?” 

Yes! Let’s dream a little. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a pass that says, “Get Out of a Meeting Free”? Here are some ideas for making your meetings more productive:

Consider the timing. If you’re someone with the ability to call a meeting during a certain time, seriously consider the best time to hold it. Corporate America has trained most people to be “morning people.” Our natural energy cycles cause us to be “up” or have “prime” time first thing in the morning. Unfortunately, many people insist on holding meetings at that time. Some kinds of meetings are good during prime time, like those involving brainstorming, problem solving, or strategic thinking. Routine staff meetings, project updates, or information-only meetings should be held during lulls in productivity. Similarly, a brainstorming session on Friday afternoon at three o’clock will probably not yield the best results.

Establish a code of conduct for your department or organization. Without a set of “rules” or “protocols” for holding meetings, people do their own thing, creating unpredictability between different meetings. I just facilitated a training session with a corporate division with 75 people. Together, we created the following Code of Conduct, which will govern their future meetings:

1. Meetings are only allowed 9-4 Monday through Thursday and 9-1 on Friday.
2. An agenda, along with any pre-work, is required 72 hours in advance of the meeting, clearly outlining the objective of the meeting. If a purpose can’t be defined, cancel the meeting. Outline the time requirement for each item on the agenda and the responsible person.
3. If meeting is not within these guidelines, each attendee has ability to question the meeting. 
4. Be sensitive to time constraints and deadlines of other departments. Match the importance and complexity of the issue to the length of the meeting. 
5. Meetings should only be 50 minutes (rather than one hour) or end ten minutes before the top of the hour, so attendees can make the next meeting that begins at the top of the hour.
6. Meetings will start and stop on time, unless all in attendance agree to extend the time. Try to finish early if possible; don’t stretch the meeting. Attendees may get up and leave at the stated end time. You can ask the previous group to leave if you have the conference room reserved.
7. Use the meeting for items requiring dialogue, decisions, or team building only, not informational items.
8. If the meeting is canceled or the room has changed, the leader is responsible for calling all attendees to notify them of the change. If you can’t attend, you must notify the leader.
9. Put people in later time zones at the beginning of the agenda. Or if an attendee’s presence is only required for small portion of the meeting, let that person speak first, and then leave.
10. Ensure that all invitees really need to be there.
11. You may send a delegate in your place, if the person is capable of making decisions and can sign off or take away an action item. Let the leader know you’re sending someone.
12. Come prepared and read advance materials. Bring your own copies of any documents. If you will not be adequately prepared, notify the leader.
13. If the leader or key decision maker no-shows, attendees may leave after 10 minutes.
14. Use a timekeeper (appointed by the leader) to keep the meeting on target and follow the agenda. Don’t limit meaningful conversation.
15. Eliminate any discussion that involves only two people. 
16. Appoint a scribe for the meeting. When something comes up that’s not on the agenda, the scribe records it on an easel pad labeled “parking lot.” The scribe also creates “one minute” minutes during the meeting (a list of who is responsible for/what/by when).
17. Don’t stop meetings to bring latecomers up to date, except in the case of emergency.
18. During the meeting, respond to emergency “911” pages only. If you must take a call, step out of the meeting room.

Get your group together and facilitate (or have someone else facilitate) a discussion and create a similar code of conduct. Reportedly, these rules have greatly reduced miscommunications and improved meeting productivity!

Lastly, try to reduce the time you spend in unimportant meetings. Can you send an alternate? Can you call the meeting chair and ask to report first, and then explain that you have another meeting on its heels and you need to depart in a timely manner? Can someone tape record the meeting for you to listen to in your car?

Here’s to the meeting revolution---where minutes aren’t taken and hours aren’t wasted!
Make it a productive day! ™

(C) Copyright 2004 Laura Stack, MBA, CSP. All rights reserved. Portions of this newsletter may be reprinted in your organization or association newsletter, provided the following credit line is present: 
"Laura M. Stack, MBA, CSP, is "The Productivity Pro," (R) helping people leave the office earlier, with less stress, and more to show for it. She presents keynotes and seminars on time management, information overload, and personal productivity. Contact her at 303-471-7401 or [email protected]"