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Goodbye productivity killers: 20 tips on how to create efficient meetings

Hours of monologues for few results: Follow these 20 tips to make your meetings more efficient.
Image: © Koelnmesse GmbH / Michael Berger

Not another meeting!

Often only half an hour is scheduled, but experience shows that many meetings end up lasting twice as long, or longer. Is it even worth starting work afterwards? The day is actually over already, again. Creativity, a thirst for action and a good mood are all gone in any case.

Meetings as efficiency killers

The idea of focusing on teamwork and creating a feeling of common goals is of course positive, in principle. The desire to build a joint consensus for important decisions should also be welcomed. But the traditional way of achieving this in frequent meetings with different staff compositions leads to enormous excess:

26.3%
of professional and managerial staff state that they spend
50%
or more of their working time in meetings

So the problem is well known: both the frequency and efficiency of meetings reveal a clear need for optimization in most companies. In theory, the purpose of meetings is to bring all participants up to speed with the current knowledge and to make joint decisions that point the way forward. In fact, however, they are usually considered fruitless productivity killers and boring time-wasters – and rightly so.

The following three types of participant, who are the natural enemies of efficient meetings, are also well-known:

  • Self-promoters who tend towards narcissistic monologues and want to push themselves into the foreground
  • Totally passive participants who hope that the tiresome compulsory exercise will soon be over
  • Those who do their utmost to make the meeting last as long as possible with questions and objections that are not related to the topic at hand, so that they are spared other tasks

All three types contribute equally to making a meeting unbearable for everyone else and keeping the results minimal. But how can meetings be made efficient? Before you start planning, you should first ask yourself whether or not a meeting is absolutely necessary.

Is a meeting even necessary?

Is it just a matter of passing on the latest information on a topic? If so, then no meeting is necessary because the input of other participants is not required. Even a subjective presentation of a thematic aspect by a speaker does not justify calling a meeting – even if the speaker is the CEO. This content is better kept in an email or even a group chat message, which steals far less time from the recipients.

Of course, banning meetings entirely and relying only on digital communication is not a solution either. Physical meetings and fruitful face-to-face exchanges are essential in the creative process and in any collaboration based on trust.

The following 20 tips will give you inspiration for adjustments to make your meetings as efficient as possible. By the way, we do not consider tips like “let participants finish speaking”, “don’t interrupt” and “turn off smartphones” worth mentioning, as these should be obvious.

Who is taking part?

#1 Only those who have something to contribute directly and actively to the topic or for whom the news communicated in the meeting is relevant should participate in the meeting.

#2 For a meeting to achieve productive results, to which each participant has contributed something, it is useful to limit the number of participants to a maximum of ten.

#3 It doesn’t always have to be the department head or team leader: let the teams decide for themselves who will represent a group of employees at a meeting. In this way, a meeting does not become a compulsory exercise for one person alone and different points of view and fresh ideas are incorporated.

Planning is half the meeting

#4 Plan an agenda in advance with a fixed timeframe for each topic. This will show you whether a meeting is even worthwhile in the first place. The idea of holding a meeting at the same time every week is not bad per se, but the necessity of each individual meeting must be questioned. In addition, you identify unimportant things just by naming topics.

#5 Classify the topics according to the tried-and-tested Information – Decision – Discussion method. This way every participant knows immediately the intention behind each item on the agenda.

#6 Make a fixed time box for each item on the agenda. Then each participant can see how long his or her contribution should take.

#7 The agenda must be available for all participants to view beforehand. If a range of topics are to be discussed, all participants should have something to contribute to each aspect.

#8 Is it not possible to fill a meeting with topics that are really relevant to all participants? Then split it into two blocks and at the beginning of the second block let those for whom these topics are not relevant leave.

#9 Ending the meeting with the classic “Any questions, wishes, suggestions, comments” part, often called “Any other business”, is pointless and should be left out. There’s time for topic-related comments in the discussion of that particular topic. All further input should find its own forum before potentially becoming the topic of a meeting later on. At the end of a meeting especially, such a point only distracts from the results and the core topics, and draws out the meeting unnecessarily.

Fresh ideas through new formats

#10 Try a stand-up meeting with your team some time. A stand-up meeting looks more dynamic and it has been proven that they are shorter, more productive and therefore more effective.

#11 Do away with the idea of a teacher at the front of the classroom by loosening up the meeting with interactive methods. In discussion phases in particular, themed cafés, sitting in circles without a conference table, group work, brainstorming or agile methods are ideal for efficient meetings.

#12 Do the participants often digress? Then appointing a different moderator for each meeting will help. He or she must chair the meeting and is responsible for keeping to the agenda for the duration of the meeting.

#13 Change the scenery! Choose changing locations for the meeting if the topics, number of participants and rooms allow. This reduces the danger of seeing periodic meetings as a monotonous compulsory exercise.

#14 Including external staff or holding effective meetings across locations is difficult. Use videotelephony tools for this and ensure that the meeting is equipped with good conference microphones so that all those present can be involved optimally.

Increase meeting efficiency thanks to time management

#15 Set a fixed timeframe for a meeting. The end time should be just as binding as the start time.

#16 You should not tolerate participants who arrive too late, nor those who exceed the allotted time with meaningless monologues. Instead of threatening punishments, however, such employees could, for example, take on the role of moderator in the next meeting.

#17 Place a clock or a timer in a position where it is clearly visible to all participants, to sharpen their perception of time.

#18 Reduce the resource “time”: Set a fixed timeframe in advance for each contribution to the meeting, so that each contribution sticks to the essentials.

#19 If you don’t want questions and comments to become lectures, set a fixed timeframe of a few seconds for these contributions as well.

#20 Visualize the course of the meeting with the agenda and time information on a whiteboard.

Katja Schulz
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