How To Run Meetings You Actually Want To Attend
This article originally appeared on Forbes.com.
The best way to have a meeting is to not have a meeting.
Or, to be clearer, that kind of meeting — the wandering, overlong, scheduled roadblocks that can suck away our energy and time. Meetings where no one’s really running it, the conversation quickly derails, no decisions are made, and no one leaves with a clear idea of what to do next.
The meeting you want to have is the one that leaves you feeling energized, with more clarity and focus than you had going in.
Great meetings look and feel like the best part of work. They are a mix of ritual check-in and spontaneous collaboration, with everyone in the same room, often working at the same table. It’s talking things out, sketching on paper, huddling together around a laptop, or writing on whiteboards and walls.
Meetings are the original collaborative productivity tool. But they rarely deliver on that promise. According to results of a survey of 182 senior managers across industries, published by Harvard Business Review, 65% said meetings keep them from completing their work, 71% said they’re unproductive and inefficient, 64% said they take time away from deep thinking, and 62% said they “miss opportunities to bring the team closer together.”
Respect the investment
Many smart people have tried to solve the problem of bad meetings with hacks and best practices for how to run a tighter, more effective gathering. Jeff Bezos always begins meetings at Amazon with a silent reading of a detailed memo and limits the size of any gathering to the number of people who can be fed by two pizzas. To ensure meetings don’t last more than 10 minutes, Richard Branson insists that all attendees stand (or walk). Slack Founder and CEO Stewart Butterfield advocates a meeting elimination diet: delete all standing meetings from your calendar and only add them back if you miss them.
Jeffrey Immelt, the former CEO of G.E., once said, “Great leaders run great meetings.” The key to a great meeting, whether you’re running it or just attending, starts with understanding that a meeting, at its most basic level, is more than an investment of time — it’s an energy cost. That cost compounds with each participant — when three people spend one hour together in a meeting, the true cost is a total of three hours of mental energy and attention. According to a study by Bain & Co., a weekly executive committee meeting cost one company 300,000 hours annually.Yet once you consider that, it’s possible to imagine a meeting in the exact opposite way: as an effective input of time and energy that can yield even greater creative energy, collaboration and clarity.
According to Steven Rogelberg, who studies meeting science at the University of North Carolina in Charlotte, the most effective meetings happen when the leaders see themselves as “stewards of everyone else’s valuable time.” And when we understand that it’s not only valuable time we’re asking people to give to a meeting, but also the cognitive and emotional energy required for group focus, we’re in a far better frame of mind to respect the investment we all make when we come together.
Here’s how we can ensure that any meeting respects the time and energy invested:
Whether you’re leading a meeting or attending one called by someone else, everyone should come prepared. That means setting and circulating a clear agenda if you’re the leader, and making sure you’ve read the agenda and completed any requested preparations if you’re an attendee.
Before you begin, acknowledge that everyone has taken the time to be present in a fundamentally human way — to show up, to pay attention, to listen and speak with empathy. Depending on the length of the meeting, taking a brief pause and starting off with a temperature check to give everyone a chance to share where they are at that moment — green, red or yellow? pumped, blocked and frustrated or exhausted? — can be stress-relieving and build trust among colleagues.
A great meeting needs an RP — a “responsible party” who will own the gathering and mindfully steward everyone’s time. An owner should begin every meeting by formally restating the goal of the meeting (based on the already-circulated agenda) to focus everyone on the work at hand.
Each participant is also an owner in his or her own right. Each should have the opportunity to question or amend the agenda or the meeting goal. And each will become the RP for any actions to be taken as a result of the meeting.
Taking ownership promotes a culture of accountability — if your name is next to a delivery date, you either deliver or be ready to explain why not.
Make decisions and write them down
Seriously, write everything down. Write down the goal of the meeting, who’s in the room, the items discussed, the decisions made, the next actions that will follow, and the who-what-when of making sure those actions are completed.
Any meeting should have a designated notekeeper. (If it’s a standing meeting, rotate the notetaking duties among participants.) The notekeeper creates what will become a living document of progress on the goals and outcomes of the projects addressed in each meeting.
Writing it down not only helps everyone to synthesize the discussion in real-time, it pays respect to the time and effort involved by documenting and preserving it. And this enables new stakeholders to join projects in progress with access to the history and context that predated them.
Play it back
Once decisions are made and next actions determined and assigned, each participant in the meeting should be able to play back in their own words what needs to happen next and by what date. It’s worth going around the room and making it a norm to playback what everyone is taking away.
Make every minute count
You should leave a meeting feeling like every minute you gave to it was worth it. If you begin to feel otherwise, you should feel free to state what you understand to be your role and responsibilities and ask respectfully if the group requires you to stay in the meeting. Don’t be shy about leaving it.
Leave with clarity
A great meeting should leave you energized and almost giddy with clarity on what you need to do next. You won’t need to spend the extra mental energy to stop and reevaluate afterward. You can immerse yourself in doing — instead of thinking about doing — because you’ve already set your goals and intentions for the day.