3 Rules for Effective Meetings

Meetings are the bane of most work days for many employees. I’ve heard people say, “I’d hate your job. I don’t want that many meetings.” I can’t agree more. Too many of my days have been back-to-back meetings, where I have ended the day mentally exhausted and without accomplishing anything.

Most of the time, the 60-minute meeting has 10-15 minutes of actual productivity. My favorite line, which I’m sure you are well-acquainted with, “Why did I need to be in that meeting?” I like to use the phrase “hostage situation” to refer to those meetings, especially when you enter hour 2 of a 30-minute meeting.

All that to say, whew. I needed to put some rules and structure around this. If you haven’t seen it, be sure to check out our free Meeting Organizer Template. It places some framework around meetings. At the heart of the meeting template are my core tenets of effective meetings.

Let’s take a look.

1. Every meeting should have a single focus

Let me repeat that: Every meeting should have a single focus.

I know, I know. Everyone is in one place at one time. We need to get as much done as possible. You want to get more done? You want to make your meetings more effective? Start by using this rule (and finish reading this article).

Everyone has been in a meeting where there are 3 agenda items to cover in an hour. Item one gets resolved around 47 minutes into the meeting. No one wants to start agenda item 2, let alone 3. When each meeting has a single focus, it’s easier to estimate time and ensure the meeting is not veering too far off topic.

There are a couple items to keep in mind when we discuss the singular focus of meetings, type and topic.

Type of meeting matters. You’re going to prepare differently for a meeting where you’ll sit through a presentation than you will for a meeting where you’ll be generating ideas or making a decision. Knowing what type of meeting you’re attending will make it much more comfortable. Everything comes down to setting clear expectations. If everyone knows that a decision will be required at the end of the meeting, great. If it’s expected that it will only be a presentation to sit through, all the pressure is removed from having to process all potential issues/repercussions.

The topic is also important to address. You don’t want to force the attendees of your meeting to move from fuzzy bunnies to corporate layoffs in a single go. It’s tough to have team members move from one topic to another and have them fully engaged. In most meetings I’m in, I’m still pondering different scenarios for topic one when we’re on topic three. I’m not fully engaged, and neither is anyone else in the room.

This method, as counterintuitive as it seems, will help ensure that your team is better engaged during each topic/meeting.

2. Once the purpose has been met, adjourn

You know what this means, right? You have to have an endpoint in mind. How do you know if you’ve completed the purpose of the meeting if there is no real “definition of done” provided? Once the goal of the meeting has been accomplished, the meeting should be adjourned to allow the members to move along with their day.

This doesn’t mean you have to leave the room immediately after the goal of the meeting is accomplished, but adjourn the meeting. This serves 2 main purposes:

  1. Attendees don’t become hostages to conversations that don’t require their presence. The whole point of running effective meetings is to limit the amount of irrelevant information team members are exposed to. This can include small talk, alternative business topics, etc.
  2. Decisions and conversations stay fresh, so action items, notes, etc. can be completed soon after the meeting has occurred. This keeps everything nice and tight in terms of temporal distance between the meeting and action items and minimizes chance/risk of error.

3. Only necessary people should be involved

This one should be obvious, but we’ve all been in meetings where we weren’t really needed. I have personally flown across the country, to sit in 3 hours of meetings, strictly to take notes. What a waste of my time and the company’s finances. With that being said, it’s really important to be strategic about who actually attends meetings. There are 3 classes of people when it comes to meetings:

  1. Required for the meeting. Anyone who is needed to hear information directly, involved in making a decision, etc. would fall into this category. These are the people who should actually be invited to the meeting. This category is full of direct stakeholder/investors.
  2. Required to be notified. This category contains the team members who are not needed for the actual meeting, but should be included on notes, communications, etc. during follow-up after the meeting has concluded. Someone who needs a status update, but not a to actually be present during the meeting itself. These are the peripheral stakeholders.
  3. Unrequired. The unrequired people are those who don’t have any investment in the meeting or outcomes. The intent is not to exclude these individuals from the meeting (although, there are times where that would be the case), but rather to keep those within this category focused on their tasks and not exposing them to unnecessary distraction.

It makes a world of difference to your team when only the required team members are involved in the meetings. Ensure you identify the role of each attendee, and that they are involved to the appropriate level.

With all the tasks that are required of employees, it’s important to ensure their time is allocated in the most efficient manner. To that end, we have distilled effective meetings into three core tenets: singular focus, adjourning once complete, and only including required attendees. Your organization will see quite the change in how effective the meetings will become.

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