Smart ways to create more productive meetings

How much time have you spent in meetings where people told you what you already knew? Or the same old things were discussed despite being covered at a previous meeting? Have you found some people don’t part with information in meetings when they should? And have you attended meetings that were intended to lead to decisions, but the meeting failed to produce those decisions?

The team at Influence at Work have used their experience and awareness of scientific experiments to recommend several ways to increase productivity of meetings:

Ask for documented information before the meeting

When people are asked to table information that can be circulated ahead of a meeting, the material is less likely to sway the contributions of others than verbal discussions at the meeting, when personalities can dominate discussion. Such documentation, even if brief, allows greater participation from the quieter members of the group.

A similar technique can be used for training sessions and workshops. Participants can be asked to consider a problem from quiet reflection rather than being expected to give an immediate response in which the discussion is led by the quickest (often the loudest) thinkers. Being quick doesn’t necessarily mean the best quality input.

Ensure the leader speaks last

Have you been at meetings where the leader jumps in with their thoughts, which dominate the ensuing discussion? This leads to ‘groupthink’ where people merely echo and paraphrase the leader’s comments, especially if it is their boss or a senior manager. The best approach is for the leader to ask for comments and be the last person to put their point of view. The opinions of others should be sought first before the leader offers their take on things. This makes a big difference to the quality of output.

Use a checklist for meetings

It is worth preparing a little checklist for meetings to ensure you have facilitated a positive result. Some questions to ask include:

  • Are the right people in attendance?
  • Do they represent a positive cross-section of views?
  • Is the balance of expertise correct?
  • Are the items in the agenda essential or can any be dealt with outside the meeting?
  • Have attendees received their papers and reports in sufficient time to absorb properly?

Keep the meeting on track

Always circulate a written agenda before the meeting. The agenda paper allows the chair of the meeting to bring the discussion back to relevant points if attendees stray in their discussion – as they usually do.

Write minutes for each meeting. Ensure the minutes show who is to follow up each item and indicate the agreed deadline for action.

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