7 Questions to Help You Run an Efficient Meeting

A good meeting is a magical thing. Ideas flow, decisions are made, and everyone leaves invigorated and ready to take on the world.

The problem is that good meetings – like most magical things – are rare beasts indeed.

What should be a fantastic team tool often turns into a slogging, frustrating experience where nothing gets accomplished and everyone’s time is wasted. A team of eight in an hour-long meeting that could be done over email has effectively wasted an entire 8-hour day’s worth of work – or more, since the meeting interrupted everyone’s workflow.

Meetings can be a productivity killer, or they can be insanely helpful – the trick is in running them as effectively as possible. Prefer the latter? Make sure you answer these 7 questions.

1. Do we need to have a meeting at all?

Trick question, right? But all too often meetings are called when a simple status update would do. Even if you do need to meet, take a moment to reconsider the format of the meeting. Do you need to reserve the big conference room and break out the PowerPoint? Or would holding a standing meeting accomplish just as much?

2. What’s the point?

Make sure the objective of your meeting is crystal clear. Are you making an important announcement? Seeking specific input on a problem or project? Needing to come to a decision as a group? Checking in for the weekly status report?

Make sure when you send out that meeting invite that everyone knows exactly what you intend to accomplish by the end of the hour.

3. Who should be there?

We’ve all sat through meetings that only vaguely related to our role. At best, it’s a mildly entertaining escape from more boring work that we should be doing. At worst, it’s taking us away from important deadlines and tasks.

The last thing you want is for someone sitting at the table thinking your meeting is a waste of time.

4. Do we need that whole hour?

According to Parkinson’s Law, “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” That law definitely applies to meetings. When a full hour is scheduled for something that will only take 30 minutes, just to “be on the safe side,” you can be sure the meeting will be filled with tangents and blowhards.

Schedule meetings only for as long as you think you’ll need – and err on the side of shorter. It’ll make sure you stay on track, and give you a great excuse to shut down meeting hijackers with a gentle reminder that you don’t have much time.

If conversation threads need to be cut off short, assign another way of dealing with them, like email, or scheduling a one-on-one conversation later.

5. Have I gotten everyone’s input?

Not everyone is as eager to speak up in a meeting – but if you’ve invited them, then you must value their perspective. As you’re holding your meeting, be careful of balance between your participants. You don’t want to let one person hijack all the conversation for their own goals, but you also don’t want to let your shy team member off the hook.

Find a way to draw them out. Sometimes all this person may need is an invitation to contribute their thoughts and the space to speak without fear of being run over by a louder voice. Give them that space, and you may be surprised at what they have to say.

6. Is this discussion germane?

Many a good meeting has been derailed by off-topic conversations, or been turned into a time for airing of grievances instead of productive discussion. The best way to combat this is to set time limits to your agenda and enforce them.

If you can, send out the agenda in advance so people can prepare for the discussion topic. If a discussion threatens to go off course or go overly long, be polite but firm in getting back on track. Say something like, “Let’s get back on track, since we have two more items to discuss in the next fifteen minutes. You and I can discuss this topic more in a separate meeting.”

Believe me, the rest of your team will be grateful that you stepped up as a leader and kept the meeting moving along briskly.

7. What actions need to be taken next?

Make sure you walk out of every meeting with a clear record of what was accomplished, and what needs to happen next. Post it on your team’s communication platform, or send it out as an email.

This avoids the problem where everyone has a different idea of what happened at the meeting and what their responsibilities are going forward. If you don’t follow up effectively, it doesn’t matter how great your initial meeting was.

Want to learn more? Check out How to Run an Efficient Meeting, a session at the NextGen Summit, a two-day conference for Generation X and Y leaders in government. It’s happening July 20-21, 2015.

Here’s the session description:

Meetings compose a large amount of your work time, but are they time well spent? Efficiency can be increased or decimated by the timing and structure of meetings. Efficient meetings, save time, help everyone accomplish more, and leave participants feeling energized. So, how do you make each meeting more energizing? Attend this session and you’ll learn how to run an efficient meeting – on the spot!

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Christina Smith

Thanks for posting this – those are great questions to ask! I love efficiency and efficient meetings are the best.

Esther Day

The information is great. Needs to be circulated more often to avoid situations where you have high hourly paid people sitting in a meeting that really does not require them at all. Also, making sure you have the right people at the table makes for an efficient meeting and avoids the he said/she said when you are trying to get consensus on a policy or issue or expenditure. Everyone hearing the same thing at the same time saves time and money and 9 times out of 10 succeeds in getting the work done.