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How to successfully manage your meetings

Business · 9 min read

Making more of your time

When you schedule a one-hour meeting, it often doesn’t seem like a big deal. However, meetings take time from everybody attending – if you have seven participants in an hour-long meeting, the business has lost seven hours of working time.

Learn some new strategies and harness the latest technology to get the most out of meetings and avoid to eroding your bottom line.

Do you really need that meeting?

Many corporate meetings can be seen as rituals, as it's commonplace for decisions to be made in hallways, at the coffee machine or in one-on-one conversations. However, meetings are the only forum where ideas can be exchanged and developed, tasks coordinated, and decisions authorized. Think about why you’re calling a meeting – the only reason should be so that something in the real world changes as a result of that meeting.

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When scheduling a meeting, be mindful of people's schedules and aim for non-objectionable times, such as mid-morning or mid-afternoon. Avoid first thing in the morning, during lunch, or finish times that run till when it’s time to clock out.

Who should you invite?

When you arrange a meeting, make sure that everyone is aware of the agenda. The people invited to the meeting should be there for a reason. The scheduler will often try to fill seats, which is sometimes seen as a good thing – as more heads in the room means more opportunities to solve the problem at hand – but it’s actually quite damaging. Not only does it draw more employees away from work, it also muddles the focus and presents more opportunities for distraction.

If you’re not sure what someone would contribute to the meeting, that’s a good sign they don’t need to be there. Likewise, if you find yourself able to check your email in a meeting, that’s a sign you don’t need to be there either.

Staying on topic

When there are a lot of people in a meeting, it can be difficult to stay on topic so prepare accordingly. Also, write a list of questions that relate to any current queries or concerns. If you ask a question but a straight answer isn’t forthcoming, make sure you ask for clarification or push to get an answer that resolves your issues.

If you find that the meeting isn’t leading anywhere or someone is going off on a tangent, then politely circle back to the agenda. You may find that the off-topic discussion is a good one to have – make a commitment to revisit the subject at a later date.

Avoid 'bike-shedding'

Northcote Parkinson's 1957 Law of Triviality became known as 'bike-shedding' after the way a fictional committee, tasked with overseeing the building of a power station, became bogged down with designs for the staff bike shed. This phenomenon describes how organizations often give disproportionate weight to trivial issues; when everyone attending a meeting can have their say about each small detail, they very often will. So, run each meeting with an eye to concentrating on the most important areas and don’t sweat the small stuff.

Calculating the real cost of meetings

Time is often the scarcest, and most often squandered, resource in business. Meetings can be bad for an organization if not much is accomplished, especially where multiple people are involved. Harvard Business review created a ‘Meeting Cost Calculator’ to see the real HR cost of a meeting and how much you could be saving.

Imagine a scenario where there is an hour-long meeting scheduled for a department of 30 people, where the average salary is US$50k. The real cost of that meeting is US$1,015 – before you’ve even included refreshments. Ask yourself, ‘is your meeting resulting in decisions that generate enough revenue to make it worth it?’ Remember, no amount of money can buy a 25-hour day or reclaim an hour lost in an unproductive meeting.

Simplify the whole organization

The more management layers a company has, has a direct correlation to the number of meetings scheduled. A 2014 report by the Harvard Business Review found that on average, the addition of one manager to an organization creates about 1.5 employees’ worth of new meetings – and every additional senior vice president creates more than 2.6 employees worth.

Companies, including Seagate and Boeing, have experimented with giving their executives feedback on the ‘load’ they were putting on the organization in terms of meetings, emails and IMs. At Seagate some senior managers participated in a program in which they routinely received reports quantifying their individual loads, along with the average load generated by other executives at their level. This information, combined with additional guidelines, encouraged them to modify their behavior. 

Prefer digital meetings to face-to-face ones?

Online meetings used to be a poor substitute to having a decent travel budget, but not anymore. The modern, digital conference meeting set-ups – with screen sharing, video calls, file-collaboration tools, and the ability to broadcast to any number of people – has reduced the need for every meeting to be a face-to-face one. This then means there’s less need for cut-price hotel bookings, helping organizations cut their travel budgets.

Video conferencing servers, such as Skype Business, now feature precision microphones, automatic cropping and head tracking to help keep the focus on the what’s being said, rather than what’s happening in the background.

Chair well-organized meetings

Always appoint a chair to run your meetings, plus a colleague tasked with collecting collaborative notes. A study by Harvard found that effective meetings often include a few minutes at the end where the team can reflect on what could have gone better. This can improve the quality of meetings over time.

Don’t end a meeting without clear agreement on the next steps. Before wrapping up, make sure you recap any immediate actions and assign them to the appropriate people. Nobody wants a scenario where the relevant people don’t follow up, which then means scheduling another meeting to talk about what you already discussed. 

Meetings of the future

At Microsoft Build 2018, the company’s annual developer conference, a meeting room scenario was unveiled in which AI software assists meeting protocols. The software includes a 360-degree camera and microphone package that can detect everyone in the meeting room, and even transcribe everything, regardless of language. The addition of AI tools mean that if someone says, “I’ll follow up with you next week,” they’ll get a notification in Microsoft Teams – the cloud-based team collaboration tool – to prompt them to act on that promise. However, it’s not clear when this meeting room scenario will become a reality.

Try ‘No meeting Mondays’. Or Tuesdays. Or Wednesdays.

To really change things up, try preventing meetings from happening one day per week. Kelly Eidson, the co-founder of removals company Moveline, banned meetings on Tuesdays, which are considered ‘Maker Days’ – one day a week when people can work wherever they want without having to worry about being accessible to others. Dustin Moskovitz, the co-founder of team productivity app Asana, said they have a policy of ‘No Meeting Wednesdays’ and similarly, Kate Kinslow instituted ‘No Meeting Fridays’ when she became CEO of Aria Healthcare. 

Rory Vaden, the co-founder of Southwestern Consulting says that his company only has meetings one day per week, deciding that the “next generation of business is one where people will work flexible hours, from multiple locations, on a variety of projects. Mondays are the one day we ask everyone to come in. We meet. We talk. We discuss. We make decisions.”

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