It seems like every few years someone comes out with a new idea for how to have more productive meetings. But then they get shot down by those who think those ideas are dumb:
- Standing meetings. The complaint: "I'm not standing! I have a bad back! Someone get me a chair!"
- Walking meetings. The complaint. "I'm wearing 5-inch heels! I'm not walking a mile in 5-inch heels over broken sidewalk! Someone get me a chair!"
- Impromptu meetings. The complaint: "I'm not ready for a meeting! I need time to prepare my notes! Someone get me a chair!"
Before you know it, the entire team has grouped around a table and a chairs like wildebeests who have just found the last good watering hole for 100 miles. Just like that you're in a traditional meeting with all the traditional problems. ("This chair is so uncomfortable!" "Why aren't there snacks?" "Why am I in this meeting -- I don't even know you people!")
Now it's time that science steps in and figures out what human beings cannot: How to have productive meetings.
Steven Rogelberg, professor of organizational science, management and philosophy at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, has some suggestions in his new book, "The Surprising Science of Meetings."
1. Forget an agenda. It really doesn't do anything in terms of meeting effectiveness despite all the advice that You. Must. Have. An. Agenda.
2. Stop holding people hostage. Do you have a weekly meeting that is pretty much the same every week? Instead of the wash, rinse, repeat cycle, try sending out information to everyone to consider then giving five minutes to answering any questions about it.
3. Remote meetings suck. Those in remote locations can be forgotten like Kevin in "Home Alone." Nobody really notices that the remote worker is fading into the background, so it's up to the meeting leader to make sure no one leaves him or her out of the discussion.
4. Don't let a calendar dictate. Just because Google or Outlook blocks out 30 minutes or 60 minutes for a meeting doesn't mean you have to follow it. Try to estimate how long the meeting will really take -- 56 minutes or 18 minutes. Then, try to cut that meeting time by 5 minutes. Science shows that when people are under pressure, they tend to focus more and be more productive.
5. Brainstorm in silence. When people are allowed to write their ideas on paper, you're likely to get many more ideas -- and the time won't be hogged by one person elaborating on one idea or everyone just following the boss's idea.
6. Get lean. Try to trim the number of participants in a meeting to as few as possible. The more people, the more time likely to be wasted -- for everyone.
7. Be a good host. If you're in charge of a meeting, be aware that people hate you. Well, maybe hate is a strong word. But you've called the meeting, so you're the reason they've been pulled away from getting other stuff done and that makes them cranky. So, if you want a productive meeting, you're going to have to be a good host and make it enjoyable. Be welcoming and express appreciation to those attending.