4 ways to make meetings less of a time-wasting hellscape

Articles about making better meetings won’t win many clicks. For high-performing teams, it’s a small but critical piece of the overall puzzle. Follow these easy steps to change the culture of wasted time at your company.

Why worry about meeting?

When we book a meeting, we’re taking control of someone else’s time. If someone is on their computer during a meeting you have set up, that probably means that you aren’t serving that person. It’s not their fault they find themselves in a boring meeting and with plenty of options for distraction. It’s your fault. Well-planned meetings should feel tight, focused, and to-the-point.

When we take control of someone’s time, we need to make sure that we’re respectful of that implicit trust. We need to:

  • Have a shorter meeting
  • Send out an agenda with the meeting invite
  • During the meeting, make sure to table off-topic conversations to keep the meeting on track
  • At the end of the meeting, summarize:
    • Open questions
    • Action items
    • Who is responsible for what

Shorter meeting

Have a shorter meeting than you think might be necessary. If you’re good about keeping everyone focused, then even a 15 or 30-minute meeting should be fine.

Send out an agenda

Agendas help people prepare and help them understand what is expected during the meeting. It also gives you a reason to table discussions that come up that have the potential to de-rail the meeting.

Table off-topic discussions

There’s always one or two people who need to talk about what’s on their minds. If we’re going to respect everyone’s time, then we need to guard against people taking too much. They can only take so much because people are afraid to ask them to re-direct or table a discussion. As the meeting organizer, you need to have the courage to ask this person to talk about off-topic subjects in another meeting or simply after in the hall. Done firmly but gently, people will respect you for your time management.

For the end of the meeting

Don’t let the meeting end without a brief summary of what just happened. The most important topics to remind people of are: open questions; action items; and who is responsible to do what. We’re following a model of gather information –> discuss –> act –> leads to need to gather more information… In this way, meetings aren’t an endless cycle but rather a concrete method of getting decision-makers in a remove and moving the project forward incrementally.

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