Meetings. Does anybody enjoy them? Nothing is more telling than when you announce the end of meeting and everyone at the table suddenly lurches back into consciousness. Were they all asleep? Was anything really accomplished?
According to some pretty shocking statistics, the answers to those questions might sadly be 'yes' and 'no,' respectively. In Entrepreneur.com, Carol Tice quotes the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics as having estimated that unnecessary meetings cost the U.S. economy $37 billion a year. Thirty-seven billion dollars.
How much of that was generated by your small business?
Unfortunately, meetings aren't going anywhere. If you didn't already know the benefits of having staff gathered in one spot to make decisions, brainstorm and get up to speed, you'd have stopped doing them a long time ago. Instead of pretending meetings can be abolished, the best way to avoid wasted time and money on unproductive meetings is simply to make them better.
Start by making a plan. Tice suggests setting strict limits on meeting agendas, attendees and time frames as a great way to instantly make meetings more efficient. 'Don't try to solve all your company's problems at one meeting,' she writes. 'Instead, keep it to one theme and leave other topics for another time.'
That kind of focused discussion with only the necessary number of people in the room can seriously cut down on wasted chatter and meaningless tangents. And when everyone knows the meeting will end in one hour, they know there's no time to waste. Besides, Tice adds, 'most participants will be completely glazed at that point and won't absorb much more.'
Shorter meetings also open the door for creative formats as well that help get juices flowing. Scott Belsky explains on WiseBread.com how the former head of Digital Media at MTV, Courtney Holt, asks meeting attendees to remain standing, which he believes results in better quality input from his staff.
'The tendency to sit back and reiterate points,' writes Belsky, 'commentate rather than content-make — dwindles as people get weak in the knees. Standing meetings become more actionable.'
Here at Grasshopper, each department has what we call “stand-ups”; quick daily meetings to get everyone on the same page at the beginning of each workday.
Ask Better Questions
No matter what the agenda says or how meeting attendees are arranged, nothing makes or breaks the value of a meeting like content. Eliciting quality feedback from staff is what really makes it worth your time as a small business owner to have them stop what they're doing and all gather 'round to chat.
Jeff Haden writes for Inc.com about Phil McKinney, the author of Beyond the Obvious: Killer Questions That Spark Game-Changing Innovation and retired chief technology officer for Hewlett-Packard's Personal Systems Group, who says knowing the difference between good questions and bad questions is the answer to better input.
'Good questions cause people to really think before they answer them, sometimes revealing answers that had previously eluded them,' Haden writes. 'Bad questions cause people to shut down. What are the most common answers to bad questions? In my experience, 'Yes' and 'No.''
Those good questions need to be more than open-ended though; they need to encourage honest feedback. In his book, McKinney writes, 'Any question that restricts people from feeling free to honestly answer is offensive; it reduces the quality of information you're going to get and makes the person being questioned feel that they are being dismissed.'
Will asking the right questions, keeping attendees active and standing, or planning for short, efficient meetings suddenly make your staff love to attend them? Well, we can always dream the answer might be 'yes' but what's more important is that, loved or hated, these techniques will make meetings more worthwhile for you and your business.
Think about the meetings you have this week. How could you make them more efficient and productive?