Here’s the scene: you’re in a room full of people trying to make a decision or get work done. Two hours you’ll never get back in yet another meeting without purpose. Then you start asking yourself, “Why am I here?” You realize how much work must be piling up in your office, and your anxiety goes off the scale. How long will you have to work because you are “stuck” in this meeting? Have you been there?
What if it could be different? What if a meeting could have a set agenda? What could a meeting with a clear purpose do for an organization? How do you gather the key leaders who make decisions to move an organization forward? What would your organization look like if you could track progress and teammates held each other accountable?
In the 21st century, the best organizations understand how meetings can propel the organization into the future. They utilize meetings as developmental events. Come along with me on a journey to productive meetings, which can enable organizational growth. The key to productive meetings is having a clear agenda, required attendees, and due-ins/due-outs.
When you can set a clear agenda, it provides expectations for those who will attend. An agenda provides boundaries that keep an organization on track. The first part of the agenda is a clear purpose for the meeting. Why are you having this meeting? Is it for decision, planning, updates, etc.?
The agenda also provides how long a meeting should last by topic. Harvard Medical School published a study in 2020 that stated the average attention span of an adult is 52 minutes. How long are your meetings? Organizations could send out weekly agendas or establish a Standing Operating Procedure (SOP). This way, everyone knows the plan for each session. Now that the agenda is set, who needs to attend?
Understanding who should attend each meeting becomes easier once you set an agenda with a clear purpose. Who should participate in the discussion should connect to the type of meeting it is (which is set with the agenda). If it’s for a decision, who are the key decision-makers who need to attend? If it’s for planning, who are the key stakeholders who need to attend? If it’s an update meeting, who should attend?
This aspect of productive meetings is the one that creates the most issues or causes the most lost time and revenue. Revenue? What does money have to do with meetings? Next time you have a meeting, do a breakdown of the hourly wage for each attendee, add that up, and ask yourself if the purpose or outcome of the meeting is worth that much. You have a clear agenda and required attendees. The last piece of criteria for productive meetings deals with execution and next steps.
Using the agenda as the base, due-ins provide the required attendees with what to prepare for. Due-ins are the primer for productive meetings. Without due-ins, meetings are flat and lack energy. If you are a required participant, the due-ins provide you with the expectations to come prepared and add value to a meeting.
As the meeting progresses, requirements will come out, and attendees will have “homework” for the next meeting. These tasks become the due-outs. At the end of every meeting, an effective technique is to have the recorder review the due-outs to ensure everyone is aware of the requirements they are responsible for with respective due dates. Here is the game-changer: the due-outs need to be tracked and become the due-ins for the next meeting. Without this practice, requirements are forgotten, time is wasted, and progress stalls.
The late Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric, once said about productive meetings, “We bring together the best ideas – turning the meetings of our top managers into intellectual orgies.” How are your meetings structured? Do you have a clear agenda and purpose? How are your meetings driving organizational change and progress? If you aren’t sure, the process outlined above can get you started.