Meetings as a business tool get a bad rap, and it’s often a manager’s fault. When meetings become routine, participants stop preparing for them and they become lifeless and ineffective. But meetings matter because most relationship building and decision making still gets conducted face to face.
How can you have business meetings, but ensure they are always productive?
In his book “Read This Before Our Next Meeting,” Al Pittampalli shows how to fundamentally change the way people meet to get their most important work done. He complains that traditional meetings create a culture of compromise and kill company urgency. Pittampalli suggests six ways to make meetings more productive:
Meet only to support a decision that has already been made
The successful meeting must have “a bias for action.” According to Pittampalli, a meeting should only focus on two activities: Resolve conflict and to lead coordination of action.
Move fast and end on time
Set a time limit for each meeting. Pittampalli reminds us that “Every meeting costs a fortune. Spend it wisely.” The leader of the meeting needs to announce how long the meeting will be. Start and end on time by only discussing the relevant issues and actions that need to be taken right now.
Limit attendees to the meeting
Too many people get invited to meetings where their participation is not essential. More people attending a meeting = more people that need to agree to take an action. This slows down the meeting process. Pittampalli believes every attendee needs to ask themselves two questions before attending: Do I add critical value sitting in the meeting? Can I give my opinion in advance of the meeting?
Reject attendees who are unprepared
Create an agenda and send material in advance for everyone to be prepared. This way, the discussion can begin at the start of the meeting and no one needs to be “brought up to speed.” Pittampalli says that agendas need to state the problem, the alternatives and what decisions will be made at the meeting. Marshall Makstein, the co-founder of eSlide, a custom design and visual consulting firm, says that the most important time is this pre-meeting planning. “We have seen hours, weeks, months go into critical meetings that may last one hour, and result in a million- or even a billion-dollar deal.”
Create committed action plans
Pittampalli insists that every meeting should have a plan of action at its conclusion. These questions should be answered: What action is being committed to? Who is responsible for each action? when will it be completed?
Work with brainstorms
Pittampalli has detailed guidelines around how brainstorming exists inside effective meetings. These include only inviting people that are passionate about the idea and who can praise other people’s ideas liberally. Don’t invite “the Vice President of No” to your meeting. When appropriate, use a strong outside facilitator that can lead a timely brainstorming session.