How to get the most from your meetings
A staggering 90 percent of people who attend meetings believe that half of their time spent in them is wasted.
That is according to a survey by time management expert Alec Mackenzie and one of the issues that industrial/organisational psychologist Paul Loftus is seeking to address in his latest book ‘We Have to Stop Meeting Like This: Your Guide to Effective Meetings’.
Mr Loftus, who is in Bermuda this week, said that with people spending more times in meetings these days - on average one third of their time - it was crucial to get the most out of them and be as productive as possible.
He said one of the cardinal sins of the person calling the meeting was a lack of agenda or issuing the agenda on the day not giving attendees enough time to prepare for the event.
Ideally, Mr Loftus said that a copy of the agenda should be handed out at least 24 hours beforehand and to set a deadline for items to be included two days prior to the meeting.
In order to be properly structured, he said the items should be listed in order of priority, taking into account the objectives of the chairperson (who leads the meeting) and the input of the attendees, and to allocate a time for each one to be discussed.
“A meeting should be called for a purpose,” he said.
“You have to decide what is going to be achieved by and got out of them.
“The chairperson is key to a successful outcome dependent on how the meeting is conducted.”
Mr Loftus said that if people were meeting regularly some basic ground rules needed to be established on how they should be run, such as sending out pre-meeting reports ahead of time and ensuring that participants has done their work in advance.
Good time-keeping was also paramount, he said, with the success of the meeting requiring everyone’s full participation and the chairperson ensure that no one person or themselves dominate proceedings, dealing with big conversationists or those who keep going off at a tangent tactfully but effectively at the same time as bringing out the best and inviting comments from the quieter members of the group. Starting on time, he added, was key to setting the standard for future meetings.
“All the time you should go back to what the purpose of the meeting is,” he said.
“You should regularly update everyone with a progress report at each stage of what has been achieved and what is left to do and then summarise that all at the end.
“From a participation stand point it is important that people share information and are clear and concise in what they say and don’t waffle.”
Annoyances and distractions like mobile phones and BlackBerrys should be turned off at all times during the meeting, while side conversations should be cut out immediately, said Mr Loftus.
In addition to a chairperson, he said there needed to be another person taking minutes, the person in charge of the project being discussed and those who will be affected by it
“This is where the chairperson comes in, they have to maintain control of the meeting and keep the group focused on the goal at hand and working as a team,” he said.
“Any good ideas outside of the agenda can be discussed in any other business or at another juncture.
“It is important to ensure that sufficient time is allocated for people to put forward their ideas. After all, a meeting is the perfect platform for people to converse through body language, tone of voice, facial expression, gestures and of course in words and for people to get immediate responses to their questions.”
Above all, Mr Loftus said the objective of a meeting should be to reach a consensus, and to have a list of minutes drawn up setting out actions to be carried out by individual people within a specific timeframe.
There are a number of instances when a meeting shouldn’t be called, he said, including:
1) When a decision has already been made about what is to be discussed.
2) If a key person is not available.
3) If there is a personality clash between members of the group.
Equally, there are several reasons to hold a meeting, such as:
1) To receive reports from participants.
2) To discover or solve a problem.
3) To get a buy-in or acceptance for an idea.
4) To provide information like the implementation of new policies and procedures.
5) To get immediate reaction to a situation that has just happened or is unfolding.
6) To move an issue or project forward if it gets stalled in the process.
Mr Loftus said that there were a variety of successful styles of meetings ranging from brain-storming sessions working within a time limit to problem solving or troubleshooting where everyone’s ideas are considered in turn.
His book will be submitted to the publisher this year with a view to publishing in the near future.
For more information contact Paul Loftus on (514) 282-9111, email ploftus[AT]colba.net or visit the website at www.paulloftus.ca