Humorist Dave Berry once remarked in a column, “If you had to identify, in one word, the reason why the human race has not achieved, and never will achieve, its full potential, that word would be “meetings.” It’s a cynicism that you’ll often hear repeated in TV shows and around the office water cooler. Which raises the question –what can be done to make meetings worthwhile?
Set an agenda.
This might seem like an obvious thing to do, but Attentiv found in their research that a staggering 63% of all meetings don’t have an agenda! That’s a major problem in terms of keeping the meeting on task and focused. It also makes it much more difficult for meeting participants to prepare. After all, if they don’t have easy access to knowing what the meeting is about, preparation will largely consist of educated guesswork, which can have inconsistent outcomes.
But an agenda also needs to be constructed in such a way that clearly demonstrates the purpose, goals, and values of the meeting. Coming up with a list of agenda items is good, but you need to dig deeper.
Define the expected goals and outcomes of the meeting.
You want to make it clear what the expected goals and outcomes of the meeting are. Whether it’s something like “Come to an agreement on next quarter’s goals” in a sales team meeting or to simply update your sales team on departmental decisions, you need that core target to be able to make sure your agenda fits those objectives.
Consider putting the goals and outcomes right on the agenda, at the top of the document. That way, it’s the first thing in participants’ minds (and the most likely thing to be remembered).
Think about delegating preparation duties.
One of the best things you can do to prepare for a meeting is to delegate the prep work to team members. Make it clear when you send out the agenda who is responsible for researching and gathering the information to be presented in each agenda item. Doing so addresses two of the primary complaints about meetings that Attentiv uncovered – poor preparation and a disorganized meeting.
Defy Parkinson’s Law.
In a 1955 satirical piece for The Economist by Cyril Northcote Parkinson, he proposed the axiom that “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”. This so-called Parkinson’s Law has likewise found its way into a mathematical equation that calculates the rate at which bureaucracies grow as time goes on. For the purposes of business meetings, it means that however long the meeting is scheduled for, that’s how long it tends to run, even if all the relevant and important tasks are done before the allotted time is up.
We bold the emphasis because it’s one of the largest, but unrealized sources of meeting inefficiency. There’s two ways to solve this problem: 1) End the meeting early. This will in most cases be the ideal solution – everyone can return to vital day-to-day work tasks and will likely have improved morale because time wasn’t wasted. Admittedly, it might be difficult to do at first – inertia is a powerful force and this unexpected early ending disrupts our human habits. But following through is an excellent way to ensure maximized time management.
Or there’s 2) Schedule shorter meetings. The most common meeting span is 30 or 60 minutes, primarily because those tend to be the default settings and selections in calendar applications. But if the meeting can be accomplished in 15 minutes, then block off 15 minutes for that activity. The one caveat: There’s a greater chance of meeting overruns, so successfully employing this method will require knowing the other people involved and your own meeting management abilities.
Ask yourself if a meeting is really necessary.
Meetings pull people away from their daily tasks, so before going ahead and scheduling that block of time, consider whether it’s needed, or if it’s something that can just be distributed via email. One thing to try as an experiment is sending out the information via email. If there’s a lot of questions or confusion that comes up, then go ahead and schedule a meeting to address concerns and clarify things. If the response is relatively muted, then a meeting isn’t required, and the few inquiries can be handled via email – thereby saving time for the majority of people on your team.
If they’re properly prepared for and are supported by an agenda that aligns with clearly defined goals and outcomes, meetings can be an excellent way to create a common language and sense of purpose with a uniformly agreed direction for your sales professionals. But failing to take these factors into account and adhere to them will result in wasted time and increased discontent and lower morale and productivity amongst your sales team.