Making sure that you schedule all content-heavy meetings in the morning can make a big difference. Credit: Digital Vision
You’re at a meeting inside your office’s conference room. You most likely feel:
a) bored out of your mind b) confused as to what the point of the discussion is c) annoyed that you were pulled away from your desk or d) a combination of all of the above.
If there’s one thing most office workers have strong opinions about, it’s unproductive meetings. But despite all of the evidence, little has been done to change the way most companies conduct business. We recently chatted with consultants Dick and Emily Axelrod about their new book “Let’s Stop Meeting Like This: Tools to Save Time and Get More Done” and what managers can do to fix common issues.
Stay on track with a schedule
“There should be ground rules for how long anyone can speak,” says Emily. Having a designated timekeeper who makes sure things stay on schedule and helps moderate discussions can make a big difference.
Make it a point to get everyone comfortable
“You want everyone to feel connected and have a collaborative space,” says Dick. “If there are new people, then you really have to have time for people to get to know each other.”
Give everyone a chance to speak
Letting one person dominate a meeting is a recipe for disaster. “One thing to do is to institute a rule that says, ‘Before we discuss anything, we should go around the room so that everyone has time to speak,” advises Dick.
Be clear about the purpose
“It’s important to ask, ‘What are we trying to create here?’” says Dick. “When you know where you are and what you want to create, you begin to see things that you didn’t see before.” One big complaint the Axelrods hear about meetings is that they often go off-track, wasting the time and patience of employees. “We had one person say, ‘All my boss talks about is his family during the meeting and we have to stay and listen,’” Dick says.
Know what a successful meeting looks like
Managers, says Dick, should work to make sure that employees “leave a meeting feeling that it was time well spent. There should be a little challenge,” he continues. “People should feel that they learned something new. What you don’t want is a meeting where you’re sitting there thinking, ‘All of my work is piling up on my desk.’”
Build in breaks so people can check their phones
On the other hand, sometimes there are simply long meetings that everyone must attend. In those cases, Emily recommends working five-to-10-minute breaks into the schedule to ensure that you have everyone’s focus while the discussion is going on.
Timing is everything
Do you have a complicated rule change or proposal that you have to roll out soon? “If it’s a content-heavy meeting, morning is a good time,” says Dick. “Afternoon is the time for meetings that require lots of activity.”
Let anyone who seems bored or distracted leave
The Axelrods say they once had a client who made all meetings voluntary because he was tired of dealing with employees who looked distracted or bored or were constantly on their phones. “If he gets the idea that they’d rather be somewhere else, he just asks them if that’s the case,” says Dick. “He trusts that people know how to manage their time.”