6 Steps to Fewer, Shorter and More Efficient Meetings

Few aspects of corporate culture are more widely disliked and ridiculed than intra-office meetings.

Employees, for the most part, feel that they’re tedious. Managers openly complain about their ineffectiveness. The worst part about meetings? Usually, they lead to more meetings.

Data seems to back those grumbles up. According to a study by software company Atlassian, employees spend 31 hours every month in unproductive meetings.

Still, while managers can cut down on the amount of unnecessary meetings they hold, they’re unlikely to see the practice disappear from corporate culture anytime soon.

Why? Meetings, as stigmatized as they may be, are central to how companies collaborate and communicate.

“Meetings, as much as they are loathed, are critical to any organization,” says Pat Lencioni, a consultant and the author of Death by Meeting: A Leadership Fable. “There is nothing inherently boring or unproductive about meetings … If we can just turn everything we know about meetings upside down — replace agendas and decorum with passion and conflict — we can transform drudgery into meaningful competitive advantage.”

Here are six ways companies can cut down on the number of meetings they schedule and revitalize the ones that remain.

1. Trim the fat from your meeting schedule

If there’s one phrase that makes consultants’ blood boil, it’s “weekly meeting.” Why are these update meetings so detested?

Dorie Clark, a marketing strategy consultant and an adjunct professor at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, says our growing aversion to meetings stems from the fact that they often have no justification for existing and usually can be replaced by a summary email.

“Meetings that happen on an ongoing basis often get “flabby,” with poorly-defined agendas and a lot of peacocking about how hard you’ve been working,” she says. “Meetings should be about decisions, not generic ‘here’s what I did last week’ blathering.”

For meetings deemed necessary by upper management, Clark recommends making them much shorter.

“The default meeting time should be rolled back from an hour (which is standard in most companies) to a half-hour or even 15 minutes,” she says. “That will force each meeting that does occur to be more efficient,” she says.

2. Calculate the cost of being at the meeting

If your company can no longer afford to squander dozens of work hours every week — or wants to undo a culture that stresses weekly meetings — it should take a closer, more numerical look at how much productivity and revenue it loses because of scheduled meetings.

Meeting cost calculators, which are available in online and mobile applications, can help companies compute this cost. By entering in the number of attendees and their average salary, managers can learn the price of the meeting and potentially extrapolate that data to calculate the weekly, monthly and yearly cost of company sit-downs.

Here are a few helpful meeting cost calculators

Mobile: MMP Cost — Meeting Calculator
Online: Meeting Cost Calculator

3. Take your meeting out of the boardroom

Employees (well, really everyone) hates sitting in place for long periods of time. As a result, they get antsy, tune out and fumble when it’s their turn to contribute. Those tendencies can be especially toxic when the meeting has multiple action items and decisions coming out of it.

When the stakes are elevated, try uprooting your meeting and taking it outside (weather permitting). Instead of feeling cramped and restless, employees will likely appreciate the breath of fresh air, which could spike their creativity.

“There’s this amazing thing about actually getting out of the box that leads to out-of-the-box thinking,” author and technology consultant Nilofer Merchant said last year in a TED Talk about walking meetings. “Whether it’s nature or the exercise itself, it certainly works.”

Walking meetings have been instituted by leaders ranging from President Obama to Steve Jobs, the latter of whom once held a meeting with Mark Zuckerberg during a stroll, according to Bloomberg.. When Zuckerberg later finalized Facebook’s deal to buy messaging service WhatsApp, he did so after walking extensively with the app’s co-founder, Jan Koum.

4. Use technology to keep your meetings on track

Most business meetings are, almost by definition at this point, disorganized. People are late, it takes forever for members to dial in and one comment can turn into a half-hour digression.

Because diversions so often turn good meetings into tangents, your company should try using software to ensure not only that the conversation stays on track, but also that the team’s action items are spelled out and executed once the meeting ends.

Here are two programs that can help managers plan meetings, control discussions and track progress

LessMeeting: Web-based program LessMeeting — which also has mobile and tablet applications, and can sync with your Google or Outlook calendar — allows managers to create and share a detailed meeting agenda with strict time allocations to keep everyone on track. The software also includes a note-taking interface and a separate space, called the “parking lot,” for asides. During the meetings, LessMeeting allows managers to assign action items and attach notifications to them. At the end of the meetings, notes are distributed to participants and the team receives an overall effectiveness score.

UberConference: For remote meetings, UberConference allows companies to create calls — either on a computer, tablet or smartphone — and then control them, giving supervisors the ability to add and drop team members or clients without time-consuming (and frustrating) dial-in processes. When a user wants to highlight a certain project, she can share her screen with the other call participants, or send a document through built-in Evernote and Box plug-ins. UberConference, which has iPhone and Android apps, is also capable of recording calls and scheduling future conferences.

5. Leverage technology to get your remote employees in sync

The number of employees who work outside of the office is fast on the rise in the United States. According to the Telework Research Network, telecommuting grew by 61% from 2005 to 2009. By 2016, the Network estimates, more than 4.9 million Americans will work from home.

Telecommuting can be fruitful for both employees and their employees. When workers feel unshackled from their desks, they’re often able to think more freely and creatively. Companies bear the benefits of that liberation.

Telecommuting has its downsides, however. Team building and communication are both extremely difficult to manage when team members are scattered throughout the country and even the world. Just getting everyone on the same page can be a laborious, time-wasting exercise.

Here are tools that make telecommuting more transparent and effective for companies and employees.

iMeet: Have a 12 p.m. meeting? Get all of your team in one place with iMeet, which has both video and audio meetings. To keep everyone on track, share documents or open private chats. iMeet also allows team leaders to bring in outside parties while the meeting is ongoing. Note-taking allows managers to capture good sidebars without diverging from the topic.

Zoho: A major drawback to project management is that employees often rely on emails to communicate with team members and managers. If your whole team works remotely and you already have a cluttered inbox, that can be problematic.

Zoho, a project management tool for teams, tries to cut down on the back-and-forth over email. The software allows you to set up feeds for each project and receive reports on what’s been done and what needs to be completed. Zoho also gives managers the ability to break down projects into smaller tasks and track progress. If they want to quickly touch base on an issue or share a file, they can use Zoho’s chat function.

6. Visualize the team’s objectives

Who hasn’t sat in a presentation an accidentally glanced at the number of slides left in the deck? “Only fifty left,” you might mumble.

As cutting-edge and visually provocative as PowerPoint presentations were two decades ago, today they tend to drone on and lull employees to sleep. Worse, the important concepts they’re supposed to articulate often become obscured by slides with trite sayings and stale visuals.

How do you invigorate a presentation? Many large corporations and organizations — from IBM to the World Economic Forum — have brought in scribes to illustrate the talking points and connections in their presentations.

One scribe company, London-based Scriberia, says its graphics allow corporate clients to take a fresh glance at their companies’ challenges and goals, and how the two might be intertwined.

“A wall of visual notes lets multiple ideas present themselves to you at the same time. In a conversation those ideas might be minutes or hours apart and never be associated together,” says Scriberia co-founder Dan Porter. “If they’re inhabiting the same visual space, it seems more likely that interesting connections will be made and existing ideas will come together to form new ones.

“It feels more like an invitation to contribute than a sales pitch,” he adds.

How have you made your meetings less numerous and more efficient? Tell us in the comments.

Source: mashable.com