Depending on your position within the company where you work, you could be spending anywhere from 35-50% of your time in meetings. Often those meetings are non-productive and ultimately a waste of your time—and the time of everyone else who attends.
It may feel that in a work environment with a cycle of non-stop meetings, there is nothing that can be done to make meetings a more productive use of everyone’s time. But, there is hope! Thoughtful planning is the key to have productive, efficient and effective meetings.
Try working with the “8 Ps”, a tried and true approach for planning better meetings.
- PURPOSE Before you schedule a meeting, ask yourself, “What is the purpose of this meeting? Exactly what do I hope to accomplish? Is this meeting even necessary? Is there a better way to accomplish my goals?”
You should be able to state the purpose in no more than one or two sentences.
- PRODUCT What is the intended outcome of this meeting? It could be a successful review, update or introduction of a process or program, establishing a plan for action, or the resolution of disputes, among many other possibilities. The clearer you are about the goals of the meeting, the more likely you will achieve those results.
- PEOPLE Who are you going to invite and why? Is everyone on the list essential to the outcome you are seeking? It is doubtful you’ll get any complaints from people who are not invited to a meeting that they really are not needed at.
- PREP Let your meeting attendees know what they need to do to prepare for the meeting. Provide background information about the topic. You can even give them advance assignments if that would be helpful. Be sure to give attendees enough time to do what they need to be successful.
- PITFALLS Consider what can go wrong. Is the timing of the meeting convenient for all attendees? Is there an issue(s) that needs to be handled before the meeting? Will you have attendees that may be disruptive or otherwise difficult? Is the technology you’ll need to have a successful meeting in place?
- PLACE Is the location conducive to an effective meeting? Is there enough privacy? Is there enough space? Will you have what you’ll need for a successful meeting such as flip charts, white boards or projectors? If it will be a virtual meeting, is everything set up and do all of the attendees have the information they’ll need to participate?
- PROTOCOL What rules will you put into place to make your meetings run smoothly? These rules should be posted for all to see.
At a minimum use the following rules:
• One speaker at a time.
• No multitasking, phones and computers off and away.
• Start and stop on time.
• I personally like ELMO, no, not the character from Sesame Street, but a tool for keeping meetings focused and on-track. ELMO stands for ENOUGH LETS MOVE ON.
Here’s how to use ELMO: I begin by placing a laminated 8 ½ by 11 sheet of paper with the word “ELMO” on the table. (I have also seen people use an Elmo doll.) As the leader of the meeting, empower everyone to use ELMO. Tell them that when a speaker goes off topic or into much more detail than is useful, participants can raise the ELMO up sign or simply say “ELMO”. The facilitator stops the speaker for a minute and asks the group “Are we ready to move on?” If the majority says “Yes”, then the speaker stops and the meeting moves on. If the group says “No”, then the speaker continues. It can be tricky when using ELMO with superiors. Sometimes when I’m facilitating a meeting with people in a range of positions within the company hierarchy, I’ll try to get a sense of what the group is thinking and say, “I think we have an ELMO here.”, and then see if the majority of attendees is willing to move on.
- PROCESS Consider how you are going to open and close your meeting (arguably the most important aspects of a successful meeting). Who will take notes? Who will keep the meeting running on time? How will decisions be made? Will you use a simple or super majority? Will leadership have veto rights?
If you follow the 8 Ps, you’ll have a solid foundation for a meeting that will be effective, efficient, and a productive use of your team’s time.