It seems like I see tweets or blogs just about every day where someone is complaining about meetings. Or I'll put up a comment about having several meetings in a row--and people send me sympathy notes as though I just buried a friend. But that's not how I look at meetings. I find meetings to often be the most productive moments of my week. It is a time I can connect with people I enjoy, talk about things I'm passionate about, and make progress that will have real impact on real people.
Here are some random thoughts about having productive meetings...
- Don't over-pack your agenda, and don't under-estimate the importance of relational connection time. I think healthy teams actually allow meetings to be side-tracked on occasion--because the highest priority of the moment is experiencing community.
- The most productive meetings happen when you know who is running point -- and what you are planning to accomplish by the end of the meeting. Put this in writing at the top of the agenda. In a recent 13-hour senior team meeting (two full days), I published the goals at the beginning of the first day. None of us thought we'd be able to accomplish it within two days. Yet by keeping the goals in front of us and reviewing them every couple hours...we kept focused, avoided rabbit-trail conversations, and accomplished every single goal by the end of the second day.
- When possible, send the agenda out ahead of time. Give people a chance to contribute. If they don't add it to the agenda before the meeting--then don't let them bring it up during the meeting. Just say, "That's a great topic. Let's discuss it off-line and consider adding it to next week's agenda."
- End the meeting with a "WHO will do WHAT by WHEN" list -- and distribute this immediately following. Use this printed list to start your next meeting.
- Consider stacking your meetings. I try to stack all my meetings on Tuesday and Wednesday. When I arrive--I know it is a meeting day. I don't have to fret that I'm not getting my to-do list done. Likewise, on Monday or Friday--I can be a productivity machine since I have few meetings.
- If you find a meeting to be a waste of time...yet you aren't the leader...then start leading up. I've been in that situation many times, and asked permission to come along side a positional leader to help with preparing for the meeting, establishing the agenda, or running point to keep the meeting productive.
- Put the big rocks in first. Make sure your most important meetings are given priority on your schedule. If other meetings can fit around the "big rocks" -- then great. But if not, don't schedule them.
Bottom line: If you are in a culture where meetings feel like a waste of time--change the culture. How? One meeting at a time.