Ground Rules to Make Meetings More Productive

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Ground Rules to Make Meetings More Productive

More than $37 billion US is spent each year on unproductive meetings. But aren’t meetings designed to be an efficient way for people to discuss ideas, debate issues, overcome obstacles and achieve goals? Then why is so much money being wasted?

The answer is that meetings have become undisciplined.

Instead of complaining about how unproductive our meetings are, why don’t we help our companies run more efficient meetings?

CTT: Instead of complaining about how unproductive our meetings are, why don’t we help our companies run more efficient meetings?

Copy this article and send it to everyone who attends meetings in your organization. Put a Post-it note on the top that says, “We should do this,” and at your next meeting add “Ground Rules” to the agenda.

If everyone helps to create the ground rules, they will be more likely to commit to them.

CTT: If everyone helps to create the ground rules, they will be more likely to commit to them.

If you look at how much time is spent in meetings (estimated at about 15 per cent of an organization’s collective time) and the money that can be saved by improving the productivity of your meeting by just five per cent, there is no reason why we wouldn’t all want to create rules that will make our meetings more productive.

Here are some ground rules your team may want to implement:

1) Start on time. We all agree that there are legitimate reasons why people arrive late to a meeting. However, habitually starting meetings late can quickly become a cultural norm and cause all meetings to start late. We end up inadvertently rewarding employees who refuse to follow the time schedule and punishing those who are prompt, creating a vicious circle.

Make a ground rule that states that if a meeting is scheduled to start at 9 a.m., then it will start at 9 a.m. If you habitually wait until 9:15 for everyone to show up, then your team quickly learns that they do not need to be at the meeting site before 9 a.m., because they will be penalized for their efficiency. They will have to sit in the room or chatting online, wasting time (all the while thinking to themselves “I could have spent another 15 minutes working instead of waiting for others who couldn’t manage their own time.”)

When the meeting is due to start, start it!

CTT: When the meeting is due to start, start it!

2) Don’t recap for people who show up late. If someone is late, then they have missed what the others have not. This will encourage them to start showing up on time for fear that they will miss something. When we recap what has been done when people arrive late, there is no consequence for their mismanagement of time, and it’s a flat-out waste of time for every other person in the room. If your meeting is virtual you could consider recording it for those that are late. They can catch up on their own time instead of wasting the time of other by recapping.

3) Use effective agendas. When you prepare an agenda, create a timed agenda that shows each person exactly how long each discussion should be. For instance, instead of putting on the agenda that we are having a finance update, indicate the topic, the person responsible and the time frame for the discussion.

Finance Update – Warren Munn, 9:10-9:25

That is much better than telling Warren he has a finance update that will last 15 minutes. The problem with saying it is a 15-minute update is that Warren probably won’t know what time he started, and therefore won’t be calculating what time he should be finished. All he knows is that he has 15 minutes.

It makes me think of the old signs in stores: “Out for break. Back in 15 minutes.” When exactly did this 15 minutes start and when will it end? Should I wait, or not?

Be sure to put who is responsible for each agenda item, as well. Otherwise, Warren may be completely unaware that he has any responsibilities during the meeting until it is too late.

4) Ask people to stay present. That means your group needs to decide if it will allow the use of electronic devices during the meeting. Some people use their device to take notes while others respond to their emails during the meeting (or text amongst themselves to voice their displeasure or do something unrelated to the meeting). Not all devices are bad, but how and why they are used might be causing your meeting to be unproductive.

Staying present also refers to side-conversations. Perhaps your team can create a ground rule around respect, reminding people that conversation with others is disrespectful and causes you to not be present.

5) Everyone participates. This should be an expectation and one that occasionally needs reinforcing. Ensure there is enough time so everyone can participate. It instantly makes the content of the meeting more meaningful to me if I’m expected to participate and therefore will be less of a waste of my time. Be patient with others and agree not to interrupt each other. If it is an expectation that everyone will participate, it causes people to be more engaged and more prepared for the meeting, as well.

There are many more ground rules that will help keep your meeting focused and effective, but it takes discipline from everyone to ensure the rules are clear and are followed.

Add this to your next agenda and have the entire group start brainstorming on ways to make meetings more productive. They will thank you for taking the initiative.

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