Making Meetings Matter

By Ray Silverstein


Time is money. Now more than ever, every minute counts. Right now, every business owner should be striving to maximize workplace efficiency. That includes eliminating all the minor time-wasting activities, which—minute by minute—chip away at your productivity.


Some time-wasters are obvious, like employees famously lurking around the water cooler. But others are more insidious, because they look and feel like real work…only nothing gets accomplished. One prime example: internal meetings. 


For example, when your employees emerge from a meeting, are they typically focused and ready to go? Or do they look frustrated and confused? Do your meetings start and end on time? Follow an agenda? Most importantly, do good things result from them?  


Let’s place a value on your last interoffice meeting. Who attended? How much does each of these employees earn? How long did the meeting run? Now tally up the cumulative “value” of all those attending…that’s how much that meeting cost your business.


Did you get your money’s worth? 



Maximizing Meeting Time

If you’re not happy with your answer, learn the basic rules of making meetings matter.


        Start the meeting precisely on time, whether or not everyone is present. Do not recap the conversation for late arrivals; being left out of the loop is good incentive to be prompt in the future. (Note: when it comes to tardiness, often business owners are the biggest offenders. If you’re one of them, recognize that you’re wasting company time and start doing better.)   


        Make sure that the meeting has a clearly stated objective and announce it when the meeting is scheduled. This encourages employees to prepare.


        Make sure that the meeting has a written agenda, with specific topics of discussion. If certain files/documents will be needed, assign someone the task of advance gathering and copying. (How many times have you held up a meeting while someone runs to make photocopies?)


        Make sure the meeting has a formal schedule. Adhere to it. Allot a specific amount of time to each portion of the agenda. Assign responsibility for each portion in advance.


        End the meeting with a formal, stated conclusion. Conclude the meeting by identifying your team’s next steps, who is responsible for what, and a timeline for achieving each step. When people leave the meeting, they should do so with a clear understanding of what’s expected of them and what happens next.



Breaking Bad Habits

If your employees aren’t disciplined about meeting attendance, getting them to change may take some effort. For this reason, some members of my peer advisory groups have devised some pretty creative habit-breaking strategies. Feel free to try one of these:   


Pass the Egg Timer - William holds a managers’ status meeting every Monday morning. William has his managers stand in a circle (standing up creates urgency). While presenting his or her report, each manager holds an upended egg-timer. The idea: finish presenting before the timer runs out. This forces managers to arrive prepared and stay on topic. It also fosters camaraderie, especially since William, the owner, follows his own rules.


The 8:37 a.m. Meeting Linda got fed-up with her staff’s chronic tardiness. Her solution: schedule all meetings at very precise but unusual times, such as 8:37 a.m. or 2:06 p.m. This gets everyone’s attention and makes the meeting time hard to forget. Meetings begin exactly as scheduled; information is not regurgitated for latecomers. Just a couple of minutes makes a big difference.


Who’s Got the Clock? - Joe uses peer pressure to encourage promptness. He purchased a very large, highly-visible clock that is brought along to every company meeting. When someone arrives late, that person must carry the clock like an albatross. It sits on his desk; it accompanies him to all future meetings….until the next person shows up late. Then the clock is passed along. 


Musical Chairpersons –This is a great way to get all your employees to take an active role in meetings, especially if you tend to run the show. Assign a different employee to be in charge of each meeting. This encourages even quiet employees to speak up, which may surface some fresh ideas. (Warning: be careful not to run the meeting from the sidelines. If you put a quick kibosh on your employees’ ideas, they may stop sharing them.)


Time is one of your company’s most valuable assets, so learn to respect it and use it wisely. Remember, as Peter F. Drucker once said, Until we can manage time, we can manage nothing else.“