We’ve all been there, you arrive at your 30-minute project progress meeting and before you know it - two hours have passed and you are still trying to figure out which vendor you should go with for your company’s next merchandise order. But what went wrong? Everyone who came to the meeting knew that the point of the meeting was to update the other present stakeholders about how the project has been progressing. But somehow after Ben mentioned that it wasn’t clear who the most cost-effective vendor would be and Susan commented that she had worked with a different vendor in the past, the conversation spiralled into a complete analysis of all possible options with no end in sight. Nobody had intervened to recommend that this conversation should have been taken offline, so everyone kept contributing. While this may have eventually led to some progress for your team, it encroached on everyone’s time and probably would have been more efficient had people come prepared knowing at least that merchandise vendors were to be the topic of discussion. Strategies for how to prevent your meeting from getting derailed is a topic for a different post, but here we will cover how 5 minutes of additional planning and how adding some simple structure to your meetings can save you and your teams hours every week.
But before you can make your next meeting more efficient, you need to have a good idea about what type of meeting you are dealing with and what the expected outcome will be. Generally, you’ll need three key pieces of information to get you started:
- Who will be there?
- How long is the meeting supposed to last?
- What should be accomplished during this meeting?
Once you have an answer to these three questions you can begin to formulate an agenda that will help define the structure of your meeting. If the meeting is a progress meeting, then your agenda should identify who needs to provide the updates and who is meant to provide feedback. If your meeting is to discuss the solution to a particular set of problems, you should aim to clearly state the problems and, if not everyone is apprised, make sure you have someone ready to present the problem and the current progress towards the solution before the discussion can start.
A good tip to keep in mind is that the level of detail in your agenda should be consistent with the formality of the meeting. Is this a quick 15-minute standup meeting? Then jot down the main goal and who will be providing the updates. Is this a 3 hour quarterly board meeting? Then ensure your agenda contains everything you expect to cover alongside all of the relevant reference material that will be used during the meeting. It is up to you to decide how much information your agenda should provide, but remember that your goal is to save as much of your team’s time as you can with this planning step.
Once you have an agenda you like, a good exercise to get into the habit of doing is estimating how long each agenda item will take to complete and ensuring that your plan still seems reasonable. If everything is allotted a reasonable amount of time and you are happy with the plan, you are all set! However, if you find that you are struggling to fit every agenda item into the assumed length of the meeting, you can try one of the following solutions:
If your team has a flexible schedule
Sometimes, it just makes sense to increase the amount of time the meeting will take. You should think carefully before doing this, however, as it will directly influence your team’s overall productivity. But, if you have an end-of-week team demo and everyone needs to present and you keep running over time despite trying other solutions, you may want to consider expanding the length of the meeting. You won’t be able to get a detailed presentation from 8 people during a 30-minute meeting - that’s normal. And don’t forget that things can go the other way as well! If you notice that you are consistently spending less time than expected, be sure to update the meeting invite to reflect this so that people can use this extra time productively.
If you can’t meet any other time
If you only have an hour of shared time with your team members and find yourselves pressed for time every time you meet, you need to get creative with ways to optimize your meeting. Here are a couple of suggestions that you might find helpful:
- Try and find items on your agenda that don't require everyone’s attendance to cover and see if you can schedule for a different time with a smaller subset of the team.
- If some of the agenda items require a lot of explanation, see if you can send out relevant material beforehand. Not only is it helpful for your team to have content like this documented anyway, but it will also help save time during the meeting by having people come prepared to the meeting having read everything ahead of time.
- Check if any agenda items can be cycled every other meeting. If you are finding that some agenda items often have updates or some points to discuss, but rarely anything substantial, try and reschedule them to the next meeting if they are not time-sensitive. This allows you to have more in-depth conversations when there are larger updates and you will save a lot of time in your meetings as switching topics can take longer than you think!
Now that your agenda is complete, it may look something like this:
Purpose of the meeting: To select a vendor for the company’s next merchandise order.
- Ben’s presentation on vendor options (15 Minutes)
- Discussion time for pros and cons with each (10 Minutes)
- Select the top option and plan the next steps (5 Minutes)
Total Time: 30 minutes
Now share your agenda with your team as early as you can before the meeting and take note of how the added structure saves you time every week!