The concept of unproductive work meetings is pervasive across many industries, but meetings can be an integral part of workplace productivity when handled properly. To get your employees excited about meetings instead of dreading them, follow these simple guidelines for how to have a productive meeting.
Identify your goals
If you don’t have goals for your meeting, then why have one? While your goals don’t need to be huge, they should be specific and actionable. For example, if your goal for an upcoming project meeting is to introduce the project plan to everyone on the team, be sure to include all aspects of the plan, such as deliverables, deadlines, assignments, and contingencies. By thinking through the specifics of your goals for the meeting, you’ll be better equipped to preempt any questions your team members will have and help them feel like they can leave the meeting and get to work.
Set an agenda
While you may have a mental agenda in advance of your meetings, setting a written agenda is crucial for maximizing productivity. Once your agenda is on paper, you can more easily see if your plan for the meeting is reasonable to cover everything in the time allotted. Your written plan can also help you spot anything you may have left out and verify that your meeting topics flow well. Ideally, you should have this written agenda prepared 24-48 hours in advance of your meeting and distribute it to meeting participants the day before. This will allow attendees to prepare thoughts and questions in advance, and it also demonstrates to attendees that you value their time enough to plan ahead.
Schedule questions at the end
Nothing derails meetings faster than a snowball of questions that are only tangentially related to the topic at hand. To avoid this rabbit hole, start your meeting by respectfully asking attendees to save all questions for the end. You can preface this request by reminding team members that you value their time and you want to keep the meeting on track. You can also offer to follow up with attendees after the meeting for any additional questions.
Include a “conflict valve”
Depending on the goal(s) of your meeting, it may be necessary to have an open discussion with your attendees in order to make decisions. These discussions can sometimes evoke heated debates or unresolvable conflicts. Plan for this in advance by preparing a “conflict valve” to diffuse the situation and move the meeting forward. A conflict valve is similar to a time valve – it’s a step you can take (or remove) in the moment to adjust to an unexpected direction or conflict that arises within the meeting. If, for example, a budget meeting resulted in conflict surrounding which departments would be affected by next quarter’s necessary budget cuts, your conflict valve may be to request email input from all meeting attendees. This will help you avoid time-consuming debates within the meeting and show your team members that you want adequate time to review and consider the matter fully. While your conflict valve may not always involve requesting more time to reach a decision, you do want to anticipate conflict in advance and have a plan for resolving it efficiently to keep your meeting on track.
Ask for feedback
One of the best ways to learn what works for your team is to ask those sitting across the table from you. Many people won’t volunteer feedback unless it is specifically requested, so take some time to ask your coworkers for honest, open feedback on how to have a productive meeting. While there are many ways to request and collect employee feedback, experiment with various ways that resonate with your team. When you start to receive useful feedback, show your team that their opinions are valued by implementing the feedback and continuing to make your meetings more productive.
By following these simple strategies, you can improve participation and commitment among your team in workplace meetings. By showing respect for their time and planning in advance, you will garner their appreciation and make your meetings increasingly more productive.