Giving Meetings a Little Structure

Most people I know hate meetings. They’re long, boring and often unrelated to the tasks at hand. And we’ve all been in that environment where every decision requires a meeting. Meetings just suck the energy and motivation from the office.

But what if I told you meetings don’t have to be so cumbersome?

The problem with most meetings is that they have almost no structure. You sit down and wait for the unorganized banter to begin. No one maintains order, no one identifies a path forward.

Let’s add a little structure to these meetings and start making the most of our time.

Cap your meeting lengths

Nothing is worse than a meeting running beyond its allotted time. We’re busy people and putting up with meetings that take over our schedule can be a real issue.

As a meeting organizer, your goal is to respect the time of your attendees. That means looking at their schedules (if possible) and setting up the meeting appropriately. Give your attendees enough breathing room between activities so they aren’t frantically checking their watches.

I’ve been to a number of meetings that have gone over an hour—sometimes well over an hour. Hardly ever are these meetings productive. Instead, they turn into marathon sessions of discussion that would lead to endless amounts of work. This is where people check out. When topics and ideas generated become so vast and unwieldy, your audience is going to shut down.

Capping meetings at an hour is not unreasonable. And the shorter the better. If what you need to discuss requires more than an hour, then the ideas involved might need to be broken down into more manageable chunks.

Have an agenda

Creating a quick agenda is a recommendation you’ll see in almost every article about leading efficient meetings. Yet agendas are a rare sighting in meetings. Taking the effort the write down what needs to be accomplished will go a long way in maintaining order, settings expectations and adhering to the the scheduled length.

Agendas don’t need to be complex. Bullet points that break up the meeting by topic is all you need, and sharing this with attendees is a must. When people know what topics are going to be discussed, especially in advance of the meeting, it helps to lay down expectations and prepare team members for a productive exchange.

Setup the next steps

Meetings must have goals. Why are you meeting? What path is the meeting trying to carve out? These questions need to have obvious answers; otherwise, you’re having a meeting just for the sake of meeting.

More importantly, the hallmark of an effective meeting is its ability to create a coherent next step. This could be scheduling a follow-up meeting, setting deliverables for various team members, lining up the completion of a milestone, or anything else that moves the project or discussion forward.

When meetings don’t have an obvious next step, people walk away with nothing. And that’s just a waste of time. Your attendees should leave a meeting knowing their duties and tasks.

Meetings are simple

The concept of a meeting is not difficult. It’s a quick collaborative exercise necessary to move the needle forward for a project. By keeping your meetings to reasonable lengths, with expectations outlined in a fast-read agenda, your attendees will come to respect your ability to gather the flock. And with every meeting you host generating tangible next steps, you’ll find yourself managing a project that achieves results quickly and efficiently.

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