Everybody knows them, some hate them, they are almost always a time suck, but very few can be productive: I’m talking about meetings.
In the corporate world, or even the startup realms, meetings are like best friend and worst enemy. Best friends with your productivity, if you’re the one calling for a meeting. Worst enemy if you get called into one.
In today’s post I want to show you how you can make every meeting more effective, so that you don’t waste your or your co-workers time.
What’s wrong with the current meeting structure
As mentioned above, a meeting is only really effective for you, if you’re the one calling for one. Most of the time, it’s something you need from an other person, and would like to get their input.
The issue here is simple: The other person and you have both a schedule, which works differently. The other person might be a total morning person, having his/her most productive time in the morning.
When you come now and schedule a meeting at 10am, obviously the person is going to get mad.
For you however, this might work out splendidly, you’re a after-lunch person anyway, so you get your real productive time after lunch, and after you drank your Action Tea.
So you meet at 10am in the typical meeting room.
In an already stressed situation, you both sit down (you probably haven’t rotated your desk yet) and start talking.
You try to get your points through and get a consensus as fast as possible.
Obviously the other person won’t have it, since it’s about a project she’s working on and can’t cut the asked parts of the project.
Without even having a schedule on what you guys are going to talk about in the meeting, you blabber and blabber.
You hit a nerve with a different point, and she gets even more mad, defending other parts of the project (they were never really part of the discussion).
You both drink nasty coffee, to power through the meeting, while you had a chocolate bar just before the meeting. Your office didn’t respect the office snack rules.
After 1.5 hours of seated, heated and unstructured discussion you both get up, with very little agreement. You thought it would have been way easier. “Why did that happen?” you ask yourself.
Simple, let’s point out all the things that were wrong and how we can fix them:
- no agreed meeting times
In today’s world everyone can schedule a meeting whenever he/she wants, you have to make room for it somehow, especially if it is at the office. That can cost you precious productivity, because it takes at least 30-40 minutes to get into the zone once you’re out of the meeting.
- meeting rooms are problematic
You are already sitting too much. In another article I talked about the importance of rotating your desks. Meeting rooms are generally an exception here, because chances are you don’t have any fancy setup there.
- the snacks and beverages you consume before or during are bad
Let’s be honest, you quickly grab a chocolate bar before a meeting, because why not? You need the energy, right? Wrong. The only thing these sweets do is causing you a sugar crash.
As you can see, foods with high glycemic index values tend to cause your blood glucose levels to drop significantly after 30+ minutes. You will only perform worse in a meeting after that chocolate bar. Sorry.
Same with coffee, if you drink bad coffee, chances are that you’ll perform bad (Sssshhh, I don’t want to spoiler anything, but I’ve heard Action Tea is pretty good!)
- no structure before the meeting
When a meeting begins, it’s almost always like war-zone. Everybody is defending their opinion and the real issue at hand gets lost. The only way to combat this problem is to have a structured meeting. What are the points being discussed?
- you sit too much
Although mentioned already above in the “bad meeting room setup” point, this deserves another separate point. At my old job, we used to have standing desks and bar stools at the meeting room, so that you could switch between standing and sitting. Sitting too much will only cause problems for your body and that in return will cause problems for your mind.
Now we’ve identified the problems, let’s look at possible solutions.
What’s the solution for effective meetings?
The five points, mentioned above are only one part of the problems with meetings, but I’d argue that they are some of the most important ones to fix, before tackling other problems.
I’ve prepared some possible solutions for the points. Let’s have a look at them:
- create meeting days / blocks
Obviously, every company culture has its different ways of doing business. But the mixed meeting times are some of the most problematic issues at hand. Some are morning people, some are evening people. Productivit will take its toll if you don’t respect the creative times of the people you work with or have as your employees.
What’s the solution here? Have meeting days or meeting blocks.
Unless it’s an absolute emergency and zombies are attacking you (throw books, they don’t like that), chances are it’s not that important to discuss right now. I think every company should have, very similar to casual Friday, have meeting tuesdays or meeting mondays.
At least then everyone is at the same page and knows that there is a strong possibility of a meeting happening on that day.
I personally like to start off the week strong and have nothing planned between Monday and Wednesday (if not ’til Thursday). Meetings on a Friday are way more fitting for my schedule, because I’m already winding down and planning my next work week, so a meeting is actually not that bad.
Plus, it definitely helps that people are thinking about the weekend, because stress levels tend to be lower on a Friday (Don’t believe me? What about the expression TGIF?).
An alternative for that is having meeting blocks, so defining certain hours (e.g. 2pm ’til 5pm on a Tuesday) where people have to expect that there are going to be meetings and everyone is in meeting mode.
- do walking meetings
You’re catching two birds with one stone here (or actually multiple birds). Walking meetings are one of the best ways to increase creativity, movement and get through your points more quickly.
The idea behind it is simple really: You agree on a meeting time and then start walking and talking. A terrace or a park is a great way, the further away from your normal office setting the better. Why?
Because according to research, changing the work environment can be creativity inducing, and that’s exactly what you want in a meeting.
You moving more is just a nice little add-on, that can make the conversation more productive and creative.
- have a structure
One of the most important points, and most common mistake is not having a clear structure on what will be discussed during the meeting.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not expecting you to create a 20 page analysis on what you’re going to talk about, it’s more of a very clear bullet point agenda on what needs to be discussed.
And as soon as you diverge away from the topic, you have a clear way on how to get back, because you have an agenda at hand.
I’d suggest that the meeting caller (the one asking for a meeting) prepares this short little bullet point agenda and puts it into the calendar meeting, if there’s something to add, the other person can either add it to the calendar invite, or bring it directly into the meeting.
The reasons why meetings take so long is simply because they are rarely following an agenda and are just all over the place. That won’t happen with your bullet point list.
- take notes
Sometimes, after a 2 hour meeting war, both parties come out not really knowing what has been agreed on and what not, simply because they don’t take notes.
It’s so simple: Take a pen and paper and write down all the relevant points that concern or impact you.
For one, it’ll make you a better negotiator for your points, because you already know what you’re going to discuss and secondly you will have a clear idea on what needs to be implemented from your side afterwards.
- skip the snacks
If you’re really low on energy, you can eat some of the healthy snack options, mentioned here. Otherwise, I’d skip the chocolate bar and other sweets. The sugar crash it causes will make you sleepy and unfocused and that in turn will make you a bad meeting attendee, causing it to go longer than expected.
If you’re going to drink coffee before hand, try to drink bulletproof coffee or better Action Tea.
- no phones
Unless you’re expecting a very, “emergency-esque” kind of call, I would leave the phones out of the meeting.
Phones or rather notifications can be a huge distraction when all you want is to have a productive discussion.
It really doesn’t matter that Mike just checked into Starbucks for the 4th time and has become the Governor of Starbucksia. Notifications can wait.
- move during meetings
Similar to the walking meetings, but a little different. If walking meeetings aren’t an option, you have to move during the meetings. Sitting for two hours straight won’t do your back any good and I can guarantee you it won’t help your creative solution process either.
Make sure to get up, stretch your legs, squat a little, rotate your head and arms at least every 30 minutes. That will help your body to readjust and your mind to work.
But if you can, I’d really try and go for a meeting walk, it’s immensely calming and more creative than being stuck in a room for 2 hours.
Meetings can be toxic, yes. But they don’t have to be.
After discussing what makes them toxic and problematic, we also looked at possible solutions. Almost all points are very easily implemented and can be applied to almost every company culture out there.
Having a meeting agenda, certain meeting blocks and a walking meetings will help your (and your team’s) productivity and creativity like you never expected.
Try to implement every point separately and observe the effect it has on your meetings. If it doesn’t help, you can ditch it, without losing the idea of improving your meetings. Keep trying until you find the right mix for your company!