Productive Meetings Don’t Have To Be Purple Unicorns

Here are some tips for ensuring that your meetings don’t waste your time, or anyone else’s:

Ensure every meeting has an owner

  • setting the agenda
  • scheduling the meeting
  • facilitating discussions to keep the meeting on topic and on time

Include only who is absolutely necessary

  • Only include attendees are who are necessary for the purpose of the meeting (subject matter experts, decisions makers, etc.).
  • But make sure to include key stakeholders. If a key stakeholder is missing, better to reschedule than to have 2 meetings!
  • But what if there are folks who need to be kept in the loop? Information can be disseminated to, or feedback solicited from, others via other means (email, Slack, etc.).

Know the goal/purpose

  • Define the goal for the meeting. If you don’t know what the goal is, don’t schedule a meeting.
  • Ensure that all attendees are aware of the goal or purpose of the meeting…before the meeting. People do their best work when they are prepared.

Know whether it’s a “decision meeting” or a “discussion meeting”

  • Decide whether the purpose of the meeting is for decision making or discussion.
  • If the meeting’s purpose is to make a decision, make sure that the meeting is not concluded until the decision has been made.

Always have an agenda (and stick to it!)

  • The agenda should be sent out in advance to all attendees (or included in the meeting invite) and should clearly state what will be discussed. It doesn’t have to be fancy; a few bullet points will do.
  • Off-topic discussion should be tabled for another time. But you want to aim for “gentle redirection”. Try the following language the next time you need to politely redirect the conversation::
  • “I want to make sure we have time to cover everything on our agenda for today, and it seems like we might need to devote some extra time to topic X. Would it be alright if we table this discussion for now? Let’s come back to this at the end of the meeting if we have time, and if not I’ll reach out to you after the meeting to address.”

Ensure attendees are prepared

  • Send out the agenda (as far in advance as possible) and any materials that need to be read in advance of the meeting.
  • Set expectations that attendees are to come prepared.

Frame the meeting at the top (to set expectations again)

  • Provide intros if necessary
  • Review the agenda (briefly)
  • Ask if anyone else has anything they wanted to discuss in the meeting (in case there is time, or so you know if you’ll need to schedule a separate meeting).

End the meeting with a recap

  • At the end of the meeting, verbally recap decisions made/action items
  • Ask: “Is there anything else that’s on your mind that we didn’t cover today?” (so that you know if additional meetings or follow up are required)
  • The meeting owner (or designated person) should follow up with a written recap as soon as possible stating:
  • Decisions made
  • Next actions (including both responsible person and timeline for each)

Does this sound like a lot of work? Consider the consequences of not putting in a little prep. Like a lot of things in life, a little planning up front saves you tons of time and frustration later.

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