In the average-size business office, meetings cost hundreds of thousands of dollars a year when you calculate the hourly rate of each individual sitting around the table.
Meetings also contribute to poor morale when they’re not run well. If one meeting bully is allowed to dominate the discussion, others will not feel valued. If the person who called the meeting is not organized, participants will be frustrated and wish they were back at their desks getting “real work” done.
Changing meeting behavior isn’t easy. If wasteful meetings are a part of your company culture, it is going to take a real commitment from leadership, demonstrating positive meeting etiquette, before the rest of the organization catches on. I’ve seen it be successful, though, when a manufacturing leadership team once said, “Enough!” They put ground rules in place and not only published them – they lived them.
Here are a few examples of things you can do right now to get more out of your business meetings.
1) Schedule meetings for the shortest amount of time possible. If a weekly team status meeting is normally scheduled for an hour, the team will use the entire hour whether each minute is truly value-added or not. Cut the meeting time in half and chances are, people will make it work.
2) Turn off your Crackberry. Or iPhone or Whiz-Bang Tablet. Remember, an hour-long, five-person meeting where the average hourly wage is $35 equals $175 in base salary alone. If it really makes more business sense to be at your desk answering e-mail, stay there.
3) Meeting organizers must define the meeting goal and inform the people they invite beforehand. This defines the purpose of why everyone is gathering and also empowers participants to be ready for the discussion or information sharing that needs to happen for the meeting to be successful.
4) Participants must arrive on time. All too often key decision makers arrive late. They miss key points, which have to be reiterated, wasting everyone else’s time.
5) End a meeting stating the outcomes, action items and next steps. This simple confirmation of what was accomplished at the end of the meeting will help everyone at the table understand the value of the time they just invested. Re-stating action items and next steps helps to clarify any confusion for tasks that need to be accomplished to keep the issues moving forward.
Other helpful tips include speaking in turn and keeping questions brief. If you feel compelled to go off on a tangent, write it down and follow up on the urge after the meeting. Chances are, if it is germane to the meeting topic, your question will eventually be answered.
All meeting players must show courtesy and respect in order for a meeting to be successful. Primarily, it is the meeting organizer’s responsibility to facilitate this but, if that’s not happening, any participant has a right to ask that unproductive behaviors stop so the participants can focus on their real purpose for being there.
We owe it to ourselves not to expect anything less than the most professional behavior in business meetings. We owe it to our shareholders to ensure every minute in meetings is money well spent.
Michelle Hicks is a communications consultant with Buck Consultants. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.