Better Meetings, Happier Team

Sometimes it seems like the biggest obstacle between you and productivity is the very thing that’s supposed to make you more productive.

That’s right: meetings.

Whether you’re the one planning them or the one required to attend, workplace meetings can seem like a giant waste of time. Of course it’s important to keep everybody informed, but do you really have to spend two hours on a Thursday morning listening to the long-talker; avoiding the glance of the eye-roller; or getting interrupted as soon as you try to put in your two cents?

The answer is no.

But, that doesn’t mean you can skip the meeting. It means you can make it better. You might even be able to make it fun.

Not running the show?

If you’re not the one in charge of the meeting, your control over the format is limited – but you can improve the quality of your own participation.

First, prepare.

Take a minute or 10 prior to the meeting to review the agenda and consider what you have to contribute to the topic at hand, or what concerns you might like to share. Prepare some questions. If you have a point you’d like to make, gather some facts so you’re ready to make the most of your moment when you have the floor.

Bring a pen and paper, and take notes.

Practice engaged listening – that’s where you really think about what’s being said. Try to speak up at least once during each meeting, but make your comments brief and to the point – people will love you for it. And they probably won’t interrupt you.

In charge of the meeting?

If you’re the one who called the meeting, a few tweaks to your meeting format could make a big difference in what’s accomplished. Here are some ideas:

Start on an up note.

Set an upbeat tone at the outset by asking everyone to share a recent success, large or small.

Set ground rules.

You’re the facilitator; promise your people that you’ll keep the conversation focused. Ask their help in staying on track. Hand out an agenda. Set up the goals, but don’t talk too long – you don’t want to lose people before you’ve even begun.

No devices.

Have the participants put away their phones so their eyes won’t be straying to the screen every time it lights up or vibrates.

Be clear about timing.

What’s the goal of the meeting? When will it end? Everyone likes a meeting that begins and ends on time. Some supervisors inject some energy by using a countdown clock. It sends the message that the end of the meeting is a deadline. Let’s get this done!

Reward participation.

You might throw each speaker a mini Milky Way. Or maybe, later, you give her a pat on the back and thank her for her contribution. Everyone likes to be noticed and valued.

Schedule breaks.

Any meeting longer than an hour must include a break. Make sure you get people out of their chairs and moving. Give them five minutes for a phone check or bathroom visit, then engage them for another five in something active and fun: thumb wrestling tournament, anyone? If you have a little more time, try a team-building challenge like the human knot.

Make time for thinking.

Each time you introduce a new topic, someone will be tempted to dive right in, possibly diverting the conversation to their narrow concerns. Instead, throw out a question… and require 30 seconds of silence before anyone can speak.

Practice redirection.

The skills for managing problem participants can be learned. Got an interrupter? Hold up a finger. “Thanks, Mitch. I’d like to get to your concern. But first let’s let Jose make his point.”

What about that guy who drones on and on? Some people just have trouble stopping, once they’ve begun to talk. Go ahead: interrupt. “You’ve made a great point, Joanne. Now I’d like to hear how others react.”

Shake things up.

Does everyone always sit in the same place? Make them switch. Better yet: remove the table. Changing the setup for your meeting can change the dynamics of the group.

An unproductive, hour-long meeting with eight people in attendance equals eight hours of lost productivity. With just a little preparation and planning, you can turn that around and use your meetings to increase productivity – and, quite possibly, increase morale as well.