How To Create A Culture Of Limited But Meaningful Meetings

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Have you had those days where your calendar is loaded with back-to-back meetings, you don't have the time to respond to an email, and when you sit down to start working, it's 5pm? We've all been there.

Meetings are a great way to communicate across departments, make hiring and other decisions, and keep the ball rolling on projects. But when they consist of rambling discussions without resulting in decisions or action items, they can be colossally ineffective.

According to an Atlassian study, 31 hours per month are spent in unproductive meetings, with most employees attending 62 meetings a month on average. Atlassian research shows that 90% of people admitted to daydreaming during meetings, 73% did other work in meetings, and 47% of survey respondents said meetings were the number one time waster in the office.

Meetings can be worthwhile when well run and structured. These tips for before, during, and after meetings will make the ones you do have worth everyone's while and free up time to actually get things done.

Before Sending The Meeting Invite

Create a culture that emphasizes strategically planned meetings and fewer meetings overall. The first step to doing that is to require detailed meeting invites that clearly explain the meeting's purpose and desired outcomes. Encourage meeting planners to respect coworkers' and to value their own time. The goal is to get more accomplished within business hours so you don't have to start your to-do list at the end of the work day. A well-planned meeting invite should include:

The meeting objective. In the words of Stephen Covey, author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, "begin with the end in mind." It's tempting to schedule a one-hour meeting to flesh out details and discuss the many moving parts with coworkers, but before you hit send, state the objective of the meeting.

A detailed agenda. Have a prioritized list of what is to happen during the meeting. Include action items, deadlines and decisions that are necessary for the project to move forward. Put this agenda in the meeting invite body so all meeting attendees have a clear picture of what is to happen.

Limit attendee list. Only invite those coworkers who are necessary to the objective. Everyone who has an action item in the meeting should attend, but consider whether other team members can be updated through a follow-up email, which it would save an hour of their time.

A short meeting length. When the meeting details are fully fleshed out, schedule the meeting for half the time you think is necessary. Resist the impulse to pad meeting length in case something comes up. This extra time gives the flexibility to start the meeting late, chat about details that aren't relevant, and make the meetings less productive overall.

It's just like having a tight deadline: When you know you only have an hour to do a task, you'll be productive and focus on the task at hand. When you feel crunched for time, you'll get to the point quickly and get as much, if not more, done than if you included the buffer time.

During The Meeting

In order to make the most of the time you do have, prioritize what needs to be discussed. If your meeting is an hour long, think about what you're giving up (and asking others to give up) to be in the meeting.

Start on time. Always start your meeting on time, even if half the team is late. Doing so will show respect for those who did show up. Latecomers will learn to arrive earlier if they're constantly missing the first part of the meeting.

Be prepared. If you organized the meeting, you are the meeting lead, so know the objective of the meeting. Guide the discussion through all the items you want to accomplish and clearly assign tasks to specific team members to be responsible for after the meeting.

Avoid side issues. Watch out for random issues that arise. If you let a random discussion point consume the length of the meeting, you risk failing to accomplish the core objective of the meeting. If the side issue can't be easily resolved, make a note to come back to it if time allows or follow up at another time.

After The Meeting

The period after the meeting is crucial, because it's when the team executes the plan created in the meeting.

Follow up. Send a follow-up email to everyone in the meeting and anyone else who may be involved in any future execution of the project. Recap the meeting discussion and decisions made, including deadlines and check-in points.

Limit additional meetings. If the meeting organized gave appropriate context, assigned action items and deadlines, the project should move forward according to that plan. Only schedule follow-up meetings for pressing issues that would be best solved with a face-to-face discussion.

Task management software like Asana can help you organize projects and tasks. Creating projects, tagging group members, assigning deadlines, and posting comments and questions on a shared task board is an effective way to track work, communicate and make decisions while minimizing meetings.

After all, less time talking means more time doing.

Like our tips? Have some other tips for effective meetings? Let us know @goodhiretweets!

Lauren Small

Lauren Small

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Lauren Small is a content and social media expert who writes about hiring, onboarding, and HR best practices. Lauren comes by her HR insight honestly, having observed the culture at diverse employers Amazon, HubSpot, and GoodHire’s parent company Inflection.

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