Stop Burning Money by the Minute

12 Steps to Better Meetings

Brought to you by the Cisco Innovators Program

How much time do you and your employees spend in meetings? Internal meetings can burn money by the minute.

Company leaders on average spend 40 to 50 percent of their working hours in meetings—and as much as one third to one half of that time is unproductive, university research shows.

Would you like to reclaim your—and your employees'—wasted hours and labor costs?

Here are 12 tips for improving business meetings, culled from company executives and experts in organizational performance.

Why Meet

"Anyone who leads and manages people needs to understand that meetings are critical to any organization," says Patrick Lencioni, author of Death by Meeting.

1. If the objective is:

  • To produce an outcome that depends on team effort, state it and meet. Meetings are all about sharing information and diverse perspectives, and building relationships and commitment.
  • To deliver information one-way, don't meet. Deliver it in another medium, such as email or video, or post it in a folder on your network where it can be accessed as needed.
  • To build consensus or enthusiasm, consider whether it could be done more efficiently in individual conversations.

Who Should Meet

People say they don't like meetings. The dirty truth: many measure their cachet by the number of meetings on their schedule.

2. Invite only the participants who can best achieve the meeting's objective.

3. Have a meeting leader who is assertive and is a good communicator and listener. The leader's responsibility is to:

  • Shut off discussion that is off topic, repetitive, destructive (such as public criticism), or so lengthy that it will require another meeting.
  • Keep the participants engaged, focused, and progressing to the goal
  • Help participants collaborate and build trust.

If the meeting objective is contentious or requires formality (such as an election), apply Robert's Rules of Order or engage a professional parliamentarian to conduct the meeting.

Where to Meet

4. If any participants are located elsewhere, you can meet online to skip the trip and travel costs. Participants can join a voice conference or use a webcam to meet "face to face" in high-quality video. You can also share whatever you're viewing on your computer with all participants, and mark up documents in real time.

5. If all participants are located at the same site, meet in any area that is private, comfortable, and free of distractions.

When to Meet

6. The time is right whenever participants are available and prepared to play their part. If participants arrive unprepared, reschedule the meeting. To meet spontaneously, you can use presence technology. And you can easily hold a mobile meeting using an iPad or smartphone.

7. Start on time. "This sounds pretty basic, but you'd be amazed how many folks get it wrong," says Douglas Merrill, author of Getting Organized in the Google Era. Accommodating latecomers—including recapping the portion they missed—wastes time and breeds tardiness.

Structure Each Meeting for Results

Effective meetings don't just happen.

8. In advance, set a clear agenda, and distribute it to participants. Include:

  • The objective (in one or two sentences), participants, location, and start and end times
  • The list of topics to be covered, by whom, and for how long, and be explicit about the action, such as "explore," "evaluate," or "decide"
  • The preparation expected of participants before the meeting.

9. Start the meeting by (inspirationally) stating the objective. Restate the agenda; you can also post it.

10. Ban side conversations, emailing, texting, and tweeting. If participants are only half listening, randomly ask people for input.

11. Don't end discussion on any topic without deciding how to act on it, and clarifying the timeline and persons responsible. Ensure that a good listener takes brief notes, and then distribute the notes immediately. Some participants rely on receipt of minutes to begin acting.

12. End the meeting early or on time—and close it on an upbeat, positive note. State the decisions and conclusions reached, the assignments made, and the requirements for follow up. Then get out, because that's where the action will happen.

You can always meet another day. Or not.

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