Ask these 6 questions to make your meetings count
Ever feel that unnecessary meetings are the only thing stopping you getting on with ‘proper work’?
Meetings can be the glue that holds an effective team together, giving colleagues a chance to share progress, brainstorm and solve problems.
But research suggests that they’ve got longer and more frequent in the last 50 years, with professionals spending almost 23 hours a week attending them. Worse still, up to half of that time is wasted, with lack of goals, disorganisation and woolly outcomes to blame.
So if your team catch-ups need some dynamic direction, make sure these questions get asked before someone clicks ‘schedule meeting’.
Question 1: Do we really need a meeting?
If it’s crucial to gather everyone together, a meeting is valid. But don’t just arrange a meeting for a meeting’s sake. Will speaking directly to a few key individuals get the same result without calling everyone away from their work?
Question 2: Is the agenda watertight?
An agenda is a crucial way to let participants know why they’re there, and what needs to be achieved during the meeting. It’s also a useful tool to keep things focused and goal-orientated if discussion veers off topic.
Listing the objectives, people attending, issues up for discussion and actions that should be taken - plus what attendees need to prepare before the meeting - gives a clear sense of purpose.
But if the agenda isn’t detailed enough to hold the gathering together, it’s wise to reconsider if the meeting should even go ahead.
Question 3: Is this the right time?
When it comes to holding a productive meeting, timing is everything. After all, it’s unrealistic to expect laser-sharp focus before lunch or during late afternoon.
Aim to schedule gatherings between 9am and 11am, or 2pm and 4pm. Some studies show that meetings held on Tuesdays at 3pm hit the productivity spot – perhaps because people have time to do enough preparation and have got into the swing of the week by that time.
Question 4: Can we keep it short?
Often, top of the list of meeting gripes is the time they take. Current scientific thinking is that the average person can stay focused for 10-18 minutes before their mind wanders (which is why the globally-renowned TED talks are a maximum of 18 minutes long).
Of course, it depends on the meeting’s purpose and list of attendees. But best practice is to schedule in 15 minutes - and aim to stick rigidly to the deadline.
Question 5: Should we ditch chairs?
If your role involves site work like many of the technical professional vacancies we specialise in at RHL, you’ll already be used to stand-up site meetings.
It turns out that asking attendees to stand up is a way to make meetings naturally shorter. In fact, research points to a reduction of up to 34% in the time they take. Staying on your feet means you don’t have a chance to get comfortable, but you still remain focused and engaged in the discussion.
Question 6: Can we walk and talk?
Emerging evidence suggests that sitting down for long periods of work can have a negative long-term effect on health, leading to it being dubbed ‘the new smoking’.
In a bid to get office staff more active, Public Health England is encouraging walking meetings wherever possible.
Clearly, a productive walk and talk with a dozen other attendees is logistically difficult. But for catch ups of three or less, getting outside to discuss key topics can work wonders. As well as the physical and mental health boosts from taking exercise, walking gets creative juices flowing. It also helps with collaboration and fosters stronger connections.
Best of all? Even if you don’t manage to totally get to grips with a tricky issue on your walk, that al fresco meeting still ticks lots of boxes. And that’s more than anyone can say about slogging through agenda items in a stale conference room...