Meetings have a reputation for being time-wasters, and this is often a fair accusation. It’s not uncommon for people to walk out of a meeting wondering why they were there or what they got out of it. Ineffective meetings occur when unnecessary people are in the room, when the objective of the meeting isn’t clear, or when there is no follow up. However, this doesn’t have to be the case—a well-run meeting can save time, provide focus for a team, and enable rapid progress toward an end result.
Before you book your next meeting, ask and answer these six questions to make sure it will be maximally productive.
1. Do you know why the meeting is happening?
This may seem simple or obvious, but chances are you have attended meetings without knowing the goal or agenda beforehand. At the very least, start the meeting by stating the objective or asking the group, “What are we here to achieve?” If you can’t get a clear answer to this question, you need to do some more preparation before holding the meeting. Ideally, send an agenda to attendees well before the meeting starts. This gets everybody on the same page and gives people the opportunity to determine whether their attendance will be a good use of their time or add value to the meeting.
2. Do you need a meeting at all?
Although having face-to-face interactions with an individual or team is warranted in many cases, sometimes a meeting isn’t necessary. One of the easiest ways to gauge whether you need to call a meeting is by determining the flow of information. If it’s a one-way flow—you simply need to share information with others—you might be able to accomplish this with a memo. However, if you need to solicit feedback or provide an opportunity for questions, a meeting is a good opportunity for two-way communication about the information. A team meeting also creates an environment for innovation and brainstorming that you might otherwise not get, sparking new ideas and including people in the creative process.
3. Do you have the right data?
Calling a meeting before all of the necessary information is gathered is a sure way to end the meeting by scheduling another meeting. If you or others in the room don’t have the data required to make an informed decision or provide feedback, it’s likely that the meeting will not achieve your goals. Gather and share any relevant data before the meeting, and make sure it is accurate so you are not wasting your time or anybody else’s. Without this important step, you might have to reconsider any decisions made during the meeting if you discover your data was faulty or incomplete.
4. Did you make any decisions?
A hallmark of a good meeting is when at least one decision was made. Before concluding a meeting, capture a list of all the decisions that were made; if there were none, this is an opportunity to determine if any decisions need to be made while everybody is still in the room. The types of decisions made in a meeting can be to take a specific action, gather more information, or wait until a triggering event has occurred. Keep track of decisions in the meeting minutes and share them after the meeting has ended.
5. Did you assign responsibilities?
If you make any decisions that require action, it’s important that assignments are made so individual responsibilities are clear. In addition to assigning people, you might also have to allocate resources and define timelines. Always include an expectation about when the work should be completed so that deadlines are clear. Do all of this in the meeting so everybody is on the same page and ready to take action immediately after the meeting has ended.
6. How will you be following up?
Just assigning responsibilities during a meeting is not enough to guarantee that the work will get done. There also has to be a sense of accountability, which can be achieved by being clear about the consequence of not completing assigned work, whether it’s a delayed product launch or a bottleneck in a process. Making everyone involved understand that others are dependent on the outcomes is critical to successful meeting follow-up. Before ending the meeting, make a list of next steps, including who is responsible for what and when the work should be completed.
Get the Most from Your Meetings
Meetings don’t have to be time-wasters. In fact, they can be the opposite if they are led effectively and efficiently. The key is to eliminate the waste so that only the benefits are left. You don’t need gimmicks or tricks to do this, just a commitment to following a simple strategy that ensures that every meeting is maximally productive. Use these six questions to help keep your meetings on track so that everybody benefits. When you do this, meetings can actually be motivating when commitments are made and progress is demonstrated through follow-up.