6 Practical Ways To Make Meetings Efficient Again

Back-to-back meetings are the worst. You spend most of the workday shuttling from meeting room to meeting room, and before you know it, the day’s over.

You’ve barely even had a good hour’s worth of time to do your work. You’re exasperated and frustrated because it didn’t feel like some of these meetings were even necessary, or because there were so many digressions and irrelevant discussions that it made you want to tear your hair out.

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Somehow, when it comes to modern-day meetings, time-wasting seems to have wiggled its way into the norm. When did inefficient and unproductive meetings become acceptable?

Enough is enough. Time needs to be respected, whether it’s your time, your co-workers’ time or your boss’ time. Here are six practical ways to reduce time wastage and make meetings efficient again.

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1. Decide if a meeting is necessary at all

 

Depending on what kind of meeting it is, consider if it’s even necessary to hold a meeting in the first place.

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For instance, information-sharing meetings like status-update meetings can be eliminated by making full use of comprehensive project management tools. Conversely, decision-making meetings such as strategy meetings necessitate face-to-face interaction.

Research has even shown that brainstorming meetings are more effective when conducted online compared to in-person, primarily because of the removal of social judgment that technology affords us.

  • If an issue can be resolved online or with a quick one-on-one discussion at someone’s desk, there’s no need to call a meeting for it.

 

2. Ensure every meeting has a specific, detailed agenda

 

Before physically attending the meeting, everyone should be aware of what its purpose is, what needs to be prepared beforehand by whom, and what needs to be accomplished by the end of it.

Never schedule a meeting without ensuring that there is a clear purpose, objective, and intended outcome for it. Undirected and unstructured meetings almost always guarantee time wastage and unfruitful discussions.

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  • If there isn’t a specific agenda, don’t meet.
  • Circulate the agenda several days in advance
  • Detail who is in charge of which item to facilitate prep
  • Get team members to add necessary items to the agenda
  • Don’t discuss what’s not already on the agenda
  • Begin every meeting by spending a few minutes reviewing the objectives and intended outcomes of the meeting

 

3. Limit the number of attendees

 

Not everyone needs to be involved in every meeting. If you’re a manager, for example, delegating authority to your subordinates to make decisions autonomously saves you the time of attending a meeting to make that decision yourself.

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The larger the meeting group, the higher the potential for digressions, distractions, and derailing. Case in point: Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos instituted a “two-pizza rule” to limit the size of meeting groups. If two pizzas weren’t enough to feed the entire group, it was too large to be effective.

Again, having a clearly defined objective and outcome for the meeting is crucial in determining who needs to be present and who doesn’t.

  • Only the relevant people should attend
  • Groups that are too large will be more inefficient than smaller groups
  • Use the meeting agenda to decide who should attend

 

4. Keep to the time limit

 

Calling for a meeting without putting in place a cut-off time for when it should end is a recipe for disaster. When you know that you need to start and end on time, it automatically pushes you to be more proactive and efficient in running every meeting strictly according to the agenda.

Consider setting time limits for each item on the agenda as well, and appoint a responsible timekeeper to keep track of this and keep the discussion moving.

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Instituting 30-minute meetings across the board is also another way of forcing efficiency during group meetings. Generally speaking, meetings that carry on for longer than half an hour tend to suffer from dissipating attention levels and reduced mental focus, hurting overall efficiency.

If it can’t be helped, though, give the group regular breaks every half an hour to make sure everyone is mentally refreshed and on their toes at all times.

  • Set a time limit for every meeting and a time for every item on the agenda, and keep to it
  • Consider limiting every meeting to 30 minutes
  • Appoint a responsible timekeeper

 

5. Give everyone equal air time

 

Most meetings tend to be dominated by a vocal minority. There are bound to be a few people in any group that speak up more than the others. While this may seem like an inevitable iteration of personality differences in the workplace, it can often cause discussions to stagnate.

If alternative opinions that are crucial to furthering the discussion are being drowned out, the group’s efficiency suffers. Additionally, the vocal minority in a group tends to end up hijacking the discussion and bringing up irrelevant and unessential topics.

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Leaders and discussion moderators have the responsibility of making sure that everyone gets a chance of being heard and that no one side-tracks the group discussion unnecessarily.

It’s also crucial for leaders to set the tone of every meeting. Brainstorming meetings, for instance, call for a judgment-free, no-holds-barred, horizontal thinking style that is facilitated by open communication. Strategy meetings, on the other hand, require more deliberative, analytical, and vertical modes of thinking.

  • Hedge against airtime-hoggers to ensure discussions aren’t hijacked
  • Allow every attendee the chance to voice their input
  • Set the right tone to facilitate the necessary cognitive and communicative styles for every meeting

 

6. End with a round-up of the necessary follow-up actions

 

Meetings often suffer from miscommunication or under-communication; everyone mistakenly assumes they each know what the next course of action is.

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Never wrap up a meeting without concluding it with a clear statement of the follow-up actions necessary. Whether you’ve made sure that people are taking their own notes or you’ve appointed a minute-taker for the entire group, it doesn’t hurt to make sure that everyone’s on the right page before dispersing.

  • Don’t move to the next item on the agenda unless everyone is clear on what has to be done next by who, and by when
  • Conclude every meeting with a list of follow-up actions and who is responsible for each task along with the accompanying deadlines

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