It’s summer, and most offices become a revolving door: interns in, vacationers out. Add in crazy schedules like Summer Fridays and there’s more impetus than ever to make sure your meetings are as productive — and short — as possible.
Problem is, even if you feel like you spend half your life in meetings (and, by the way, you do — almost 40 percent of employee time is spent in meetings) most people don’t do meetings right. In fact, the statistics are staggering. One estimate finds that $37 billion is wasted annually in unproductive meetings.
So, whether you’re new on the meeting circuit or have run 10 million over your career, it’s the perfect time for a meeting etiquette refresher.
Meeting faux pas 1: Too many attendees
Less is more. Really. When there are too many people — or the wrong people — you’re going to end up with off-target tangents and input that doesn’t solve your issues. Plus, when people can’t get a word in edgewise, they tend to tune out.
And, not only is the meeting likely to be ineffective, but you’re annoying those whom you invited who don’t need to be there. After all, there’s an opportunity cost involved in attending a meeting. By inviting someone who doesn’t need to be there, you’re taking up the time they’re spending in the meeting, plus the time they’ll have to devote to the work they’re not doing while participating.
Fix it fast:
Consider borrowing Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ Two Pizza Rule: Make the attendee list small enough that two pizzas adequately feeds the group. Not only does this keep meetings productive, but it also guards against groupthink.
Another great rule of thumb is the Rule of 7, which is the ideal number for group tasks, including meetings. For every person over that magic number, the likelihood of making an executable decision goes down by 10 percent. That means that once you hit 16 or 17 people in the room, decision effectiveness is just about zero.
So, figure out who needs to be there and only invite them. The others can be sent meeting notes, if they really want to know what’s going on.
Meeting faux pas 2: Distractions
Ah, the siren song of your text chime. It’s almost impossible to ignore, but it guarantees that you will miss out on what’s being said in the meeting, wasting your time as well as that of everyone else in the room.
Fix it fast:
The best way to stay focused on the meeting is to leave that distracting device behind.
And if you’re the meeting organizer, it’s OK to ask attendees to just leave their phones, laptops and tablets at their desk. Hand out some old-school notepads and encourage note taking by hand.
Another option, if you are meeting remotely, is to hold a video call instead of a phone call. Studies show that people are less likely to multitask on video calls (4 percent) versus phone calls (57 percent).
If you often have the same group at your meeting, consider establishing some ground rules, such as:
- Leave mobile devices at your desk.
- Be on time.
- Don’t bring food, or at least food that’s distracting.
- Be ready to take notes.
- Come prepared to discuss what’s on the agenda.
Meeting faux pas 3: Monopolizing the floor.
A surefire way to have everyone else tune out is by talking too much, or by allowing others to take over the meeting, pursuing a tangent or a conversation that only involves two meeting members that should be tabled until later.
Fix it fast:
Create an airtight agenda, which will set expectations for the meeting and allow attendees to adequately prepare: When people have time to gather their thoughts in advance, you’ll have a more productive conversation, so try to share the agenda a few days before your meeting.
Effective agendas are much more than just a list of topics, so consider adding who will be talking about each topic (including if you want everyone prepared for a brainstorm) as well as how long is allocated for each topic, to help keep everyone on point.
Meeting faux pas 4: Meeting bloat
So the agenda has been covered and decisions have been made, yet you still have 20 minutes allocated to the meeting. Should you introduce a new topic or revisit something you’ve already adequately covered?
Fix it fast:
There’s an adage that describes why you feel like you have to use up the whole hour: Work will expand to fit the time available, otherwise known as Parkinson’s Law. But you can — and should — break this law when the agenda items have been adequately covered.
Resist the urge and instead think back to your student days, and the jubilation you felt when you were let out of class early. Then use the found time to do something more productive so you can thoroughly enjoy that Summer Friday.