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Meetings are largely a waste of time. You spend the first few minutes discussing football, the next few minutes deciding whether to wait for Pam (who is chronically late to meetings), and the next few minutes discussing Bob’s irrelevant complaints.

By the time you’ve gotten down to business, half the scheduled meeting is over. You’re going to go over time again. And again, you’re going to cut your lunch hour so you can get everything done.

It’s a problem across the entire businessphere. People generally spend 40% of their workday dealing with meetings and other distractions from deep work.

It would seem these problems would be simple to fix. And really, they are simple to fix. But sometimes simple isn’t easy.

Why? Because hacking human behavior is hard. You can’t just push a button and change someone’s behavior. You have to convince people to change and then they have to practice that change.

But there is some good news. It’s entirely possible to have efficient and effective business meetings. Here’s how.

1. Create an Agenda And Stick to It

Boundaries can be good. They keep your kids from running into the road. They keep the cattle from getting lost. And they keep your little flock of employees on task.

An agenda is a set of boundaries for your conversations within a meeting. Because, and you’ve experienced this I’m sure, anything could send the conversation careening off course.

You could be talking about budget one moment and politics the next. You could be ironing out plans for the next corporate retreat and suddenly find yourself talking about the Seattle Seahawks. It can happen to any meeting. In fact, it happens to most meetings.

When you’re going over the agenda beforehand, consider these things:

  • What needs to be done beforehand?
  • What is a realistic timeframe for the meeting?
  • What’s a realistic timeframe for each item on the agenda?
  • Who is responsible for keeping people on task with the agenda?

2. Design Your Meetings For Efficiency

Sometimes your meetings run long because of environment. If you’re running your business out of your garage, you might not have an optimal meeting space.

If you’re meeting in a coffee shop, there are too many distractions. Your employees might feel comfortable there, but they’re going to feel too comfortable. This denotes a feeling of casualness when the meeting itself is entirely professional.

There are plenty of meeting rooms you can rent around your city. Consider your local coworking space. Often they’ll rent out a conference room for cheap. If there is a university nearby, you could rent out a room in the library or in a building. Some restaurants will have back rooms you can rent for cheap.

Restaurant back rooms could be perfect for a quarterly meeting for important planning and quarterly goals. If you pay for your employees’ meals at this meeting it will feel like a reward for meeting goals and encourage them to continue creating and meeting goals.

3. Create a Decision-Making Process

Do this upfront or even before the meeting. Once established, write out the decision-making process and hand it out. Or have someone write the process on the board so everyone knows the rules.

Think of how you run your business. Is it democratic? Do employees have a say in how things operate? Are you running a kingdom where employees can voice their complaints to the king and then the king decides?

How you run your business on a daily basis will reflect in your meetings. You should create a decision-making process your employees or officers are comfortable with. And the more transparent you are about the process, the more input you’ll get from your employees.

People are more likely to express their concerns if they know their concerns are being considered.

Also, remember, if you’re the boss, you get to make the rules. Meeting attendees don’t have to agree to the rules, they just have to understand and implement them.

Here are a few things you should communicate when creating the process:

  • Who makes the final decision?
  • How does deliberation happen?
  • How long do you have to make each decision?
  • Do some employees have more influence than others? (Make this absolutely clear!)
  • Who gets to know about the decision afterward?
  • How are you going to communicate said decision?

4. Invite the Most Resourceful and Disciplined

Sometimes, because of position, people feel entitled to be at a meeting. But position shouldn’t always dictate who goes to a meeting.

The type of meeting should dictate who goes to a meeting. Sometimes, too many cooks in a kitchen will ruin the soup. Same goes for a meeting. If you have too many voices in on a decision, you might delay the decision and disrupt the process.

Thus, you need to weed out the people who won’t contribute. You need to weed out those who might just “play the devil’s advocate” and not add useful information. And you need to weed out anyone who isn’t knowledgeable about the subject matter being discussed.

If someone is bored and disengaged, they can become disruptive or at least bring the rest of the group down with them. During the meeting note who participates and who doesn’t. This will help you determine who is active and who is passive.

5. Assign Roles

One way to keep people on task during a meeting is to give them a job. This way each person is a valuable part of the whole machinery that is the meeting.

For example, you don’t need to always be the one who takes notes. You can have someone else do that for you. If someone is either great at typing or handwriting, choose them for the role of meeting scribe.

Give someone the duty of keeping everyone tied to the clock. Give them a buzzer to make it fun (that is, if you trust them with a buzzer…).

And lastly, make sure you assign a leader. Sometimes that’s you, but sometimes you’re not the most knowledgeable one to lead. Lean on your employees who are experts in their departments and you’ll have better meetings.


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