Meetings are perennial problems. People sit through meetings and then complain about how big a waste of time it was. Here are a couple very simple tips to try and actually improve (instead of just agreeing that meetings are wasteful, but doing nothing to improve).
- Have an agenda (with desired outcomes – decision on x, or whatever) and stick to it (I think you can successfully adapt as the meeting goes on, but be truthful, can you do so successfully – if so fine, if not stick to the agenda). If there are no desired outcomes, why are you meeting?
- Most of the time you can improve just by having fewer meetings. So when you find there is no actually benefit to a meeting be happy – that is one more meeting that can be eliminated.
- Document decisions on a flip chart that everyone can see in the meeting and then email everyone the decisions. This is a huge help in my experience. People often just want to get the meeting over with, so everyone just ignores that no decision has actually been made and just hopes the meeting ends. For those things you have decided it is worth meeting on, it is worth making sure everyone understands the decision the same way (how often do you waste time in between meetings and in future meetings as people present alternative versions of what was actually decided.
- Talk to those involved in regular meetings and ask what can be improved. Improve your meeting process over time. If you don’t have an improvement process in place for meetings that is a bad sign.
I would strongly suggest if someone thinks they need to answer emails… instead of pay attention to the meeting they should not be in the meeting. Some people love to multi-task and act like they are too important to focus on something. I don’t find that true, instead they are just people that like to seem busy but not actually accomplish tasks. If your staff are doing this stop them. If you are subjected to working with such people, try to exclude them from the meeting and deal with people that actually care to focus and get things done.
Critical people on the other hand I find valuable (while others don’t want to deal with them). Encourage people to be open if meetings are not an effective use of their time. Talk to them about how to improve the meeting process. I take as true the idea that meetings are a problem and so those willing to state this and help make them better should be valued.
The Team Handbook also has good information on running effective meetings.