Here’s a great idea for your next meeting: cancel it!

Here's a great idea for your next meeting: cancel it!

In business, don’t we love a good meeting? Team meetings, status update meetings, budget updates, pipeline reporting, key account meetings, sales meetings, management meetings and finance meetings. The list is endless.

And here is the thing. Many of these meetings – some would argue most of them – are a total waste of time.

No doubt there are thousands of books, articles and training courses on how to run a good meeting. I don’t propose to emulate these. But let me share with you what I have found works in making meetings more effective for my business, be you a junior team leader trying to herd a group of young staff, or the CEO determined to impose order and direction.

Meetings are to start on time. My insistence on meetings starting on time has nothing to do with my Freudian frailties, and everything to do with the value I put on my time and the time of the staff. Meetings are inherently dubious because they take us away from our customers. If you keep a group of 10 of us waiting 15 minutes to start a meeting, that is 10 x 15 minutes, or 150 minutes, as I have explained in an earlier article: No, you’re not running late – you are rude and selfish.

Essentially, it’s three hours wasted, when we could have been working for clients and customers, and generating revenue. That’s unforgivable. So, if the meeting starts at 8am, it starts at 8am. Those who come late are clearly and publicly reminded of the meeting start time, and that we would appreciate them getting here on time, next time. We do not go back to brief latecomers on what has been discussed. They can find out later. Why should we waste more time for people who did get to the meeting on time? Those who arrive obscenely late are asked to come to the next meeting as they have missed this one.

The underlying theme of every meeting is “How does his meeting help our customers?” Ask the question every 20 minutes. Hang a sign on the wall asking that question. Give everyone the right to ask that question if discussions go off track. If the meeting becomes too internal, too waffly, simply call the meeting to an end. Seriously. Meetings are not sacred.

Have a time limit for every meeting, publicised beforehand. This meeting starts at 9am and finishes at 10am, if not before. Never allow it to go beyond the set time. This allows people to plan the rest of their morning efficiently, and it focuses the discussion wonderfully to ensure you get through the agenda swiftly, focusing on the important stuff.

Have an agenda and invite all attendees to contribute to the agenda beforehand. If the topic is not on the agenda, it does not get addressed. This approach is really effective in ensuring people prepare their thoughts, and stops all those meeting ‘hijackers’ raising irrelevant topics on the fly as it occurs to them. Very disruptive.

Contributions from attendees must be limited to discussions where decisions or strategies result. This is important. No waffle, no grandstanding, no post-mortems or war stories. So the meeting convener says, “How does this lead to us agreeing a strategy for XYZ?” If it does not assist in that direction, move on.

When chairing meetings, move fast through the agenda. Don’t get bogged down on petty and small points. Make sure the meeting has a purpose and a result.

Delegate tasks resulting from the meeting to the attendees. You, the manager, don’t end up with 20 tasks. If someone has suggested sponsoring the local football team is a good idea, and the group agrees, the person who raised the idea gets the job to research and cost it and come back to the next meeting with a proposal. This is a great tactic because it quickly results in people only raising items they are passionate about. Because if it flies, they get to do the work! Self-regulating, I find.

If possible have all attendees get to the meeting having had some prep to do. Especially if they have nominated agenda items. Make sure they have to present the topic and sell their idea.

If you prepare for a meeting and find there are few or no burning issues to discuss, cancel the meeting! Meetings must result in definable outcomes and actions steps, which are tabled and followed up at the next meeting. If there are no issues, it’s better to cancel the meeting and spend more time with customers.

One of the best meetings I attended recently was a job meeting at 9am in the Tokyo office of Firebrand a few weeks ago. The purpose was to cover open orders, highlight fresh new talent and set goals for the day. The meeting was held standing up! Fantastic. Everyone stood there, delivered their news, shared their issues and 15 minutes later it was over and on with the day!

Great meeting.

Finally, here is a great tool:  Set up a laptop on your meeting table. Enter the dollar figures into the tool and watch the cost of your meeting rise in real time.

Meetings are about outcomes that improve the result for customers. Seriously, what other purpose is there?

Greg Savage is the founder and driving force behind Firebrand Talent Search. This article first appeared at Firebrand Ideas Ignition.


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