10 tips for better meetings
Wenche Strømsnes has more than twenty years of experience in leadership and business development. Now she is focusing on helping companies improve their meeting culture. How many meetings did you attend today? Was there any conflict? Did all of the meetings have an agenda?
If meetings become an end in itself, something has gone terribly wrong. Meetings are intended for making decisions and ensuring that everything is going in the right direction. They are not supposed to be an interruption.
Wenche Strømsnes from Denmark has long ago lost count of the meetings she has attended during her career. However, she has learned from her good and bad experiences that improving the meeting culture is the most effective way to develop an organization and save time and money.
According to studies, meetings represent at least 15% of companies’ personnel expenses. Middle managers spend around 50% and senior managers up to 80% of their time at meetings. The more managers or knowledge employees your company has, the more time is spent at meetings. These expenses are hidden but very real. If you want to save money, maybe it’s time for a change?
Wenche Strømsnes shares ten tips for more efficient and productive meetings.
- A meeting must have an agenda
A meeting without an agenda is rarely productive. The atmosphere may seem creative and inspiring, but the discussion is all over the place, and the meeting may end with bad decisions. Having an agenda ensures that everyone is on the same page and can prepare for the meeting.
- Reduce the number of meetings
Generally, 25–50% of meetings are necessary only because the quality of the previous meeting was so low. Meetings are always a disturbance—something that interrupts our actual work. This means that any meeting, no matter how short or long, has the same distracting effect. Pay attention to the quality of each meeting. This enables you to reduce the number of meetings and use your valuable time productively.
- Differing views improve the result
Research shows that decisions made under conflict are actually better, as people will feel more committed to such decisions, even when they did not get their point through.
As a leader, you can create conflict by acknowledging different views. Be clear that you want different perspectives: ask for different views, challenge the participants or ask people to talk in pairs. Be aware of who you give the floor to first. Steering the conversation will lead to proper discussion.
- The purpose must be clear
Before sending an invitation, think twice whether the meeting is necessary. FYI meetings are not usually a good idea. If you have a great deal of information you want to share, maybe you can send it via email or the intranet? In addition, the more independently you can let people make decisions, the fewer meetings you will need.
- Everyone can improve the meeting culture
You can improve the quality of a meeting even when you are not the organizer. When you are invited to a meeting, prepare and make sure that you are able to give 100%. If you do not receive the agenda for the meeting, ask for one. I strongly recommend Death by Meeting, a bestseller by Patrick Lencioni, which includes practical tips for improving the quality of meetings.
- Create spaces for discussion
At one of my previous workplaces, we had one day each month when everybody had to be in the office and not with customers. That day was designated for talking to one another.
For many people, discussion is a way of processing thoughts. We need a forum where we can speak our thoughts out loud—and we do not necessarily need anyone to listen. Meetings are too often used for discussion of this type, which is why I recommend creating other spaces where people can discuss.
- Technology to the rescue
When does this task need to be done? Who is going to do it? Hey, it’s about time to start preparing for your next meeting! We have developed WhatGoesUp, a digital solution that asks you the most important questions, sends people tasks, tells you when you need to start preparing for the next meeting and creates draft agendas based on the previous meeting.
You can become more efficient and structured by digitalizing good meeting habits. Through technology, more people can be included in development processes. I have been using REAL for years, and I love its ability to involve more people than you could at face-to-face meetings and workshops. REAL allows us to cooperate on the same task at different times and in different places.
- Ad hoc meetings are the worst
You can measure your company’s meeting culture by the number of ad hoc meetings. If you frequently have a need to organize meetings at short notice, your meeting culture is ineffective. Ad hoc meetings are for coordination. In other words, a large number of ad hoc meetings means that your company has an unhealthy need for coordination. Maybe this need could be eliminated by giving people more power to make decisions? Ad hoc meetings should take up no more than 5% of your time.
- A virtual meeting? Keep the agenda simple
Telecommuting is great: no need to travel to work and back home, and virtual meetings are usually efficient. But be careful: choose only a few, very specific topics for virtual meetings. A complex agenda will not work.
- Have no more than eight people at a meeting
When choosing the attendees, do not look at the organizational chart or job titles. Think about actual impact. Who do you need to have at the meeting in order to make decisions? Do you know someone to be opposed to the issue? Include them as well. People say that they hate meetings—but take offense if they are not invited. You can always say that you simply wanted to save their precious time.
In my experience, you should not have more than eight people at an efficient meeting. You can have more only if you plan the meeting well and work in smaller groups.
CEO, Better Meetings
Meet the expert - Written by Hanna Liimatainen