May 7, 2019
How to Have More Efficient and Effective Business Meetings
In my last several articles I’ve discussed various ways to implement systems to manage your business as it grows, transitioning from a one-person show to an organization in which you have developed other leaders to work for you by executing systems you designed, are effective and are something of which you can be proud. This, as you’ve seen, entails a flip from spending time doing to spending time directing, monitoring and mentoring. That means meetings.
There is perhaps no other word in the business lexicon that inspires stronger feelings than the word “meetings.” Some see them as a necessary and productive part of teamwork, while others see them as an unbearable waste of time. The truth is that, as your team grows, meetings will be necessary, like them or not, and whether they are productive or wasteful is up to you.
All Hands on Deck?
The first question you need to answer is who is going to be there. In small organizations, “all hands” meetings are often the first type to evolve. Nobody likes repeating themselves, right? So, let’s get everyone together for a minute and make sure we’re all on the same page.
That approach can work well with very small teams, but as your organization grows it will quickly become untenable. The effectiveness of many meetings suffers simply because they are too large. Yes, everyone likes to feel included and getting a range of input and feedback can be beneficial, but that must be balanced with an eye toward effectiveness. If you are simply presenting to your audience it can be a large one, but if you are actively seeking discussion to solve problems, the group should include only the essential personnel and leave it up to those unit leaders to carry those steps down the line.
Staying on Track
It happens. You’re leading the meeting and making progress toward the goal you had in mind, then someone makes a valid but slightly off-topic point or observation. Then someone else disputes that point, and before you know it, you’re discussing improvements to last year’s holiday party menu when the intention was to talk about streamlining procurement lead times.
Many who have built their businesses from the ground up in a no-nonsense fashion, see meeting agendas as an overly formal, too rigid and bureaucratic process. While that can become true, your agendas can be as formal or casual as you like, but having them is a must.
An agenda not only keeps you on topic, it helps everyone be prepared and goes a long way towards preventing “Let me go get those numbers and I’ll be right back … ,” which inevitably leads to the aforementioned topic drift while people wait.
At the same time, an agenda will work only if you put it to work. This means you must keep people on the agenda, realize when things are drifting and steer them back on track. It is perfectly okay to take note of non-agenda topics that may come up and work to address them later, but do not let them sidetrack the agenda you had planned except in the most dire emergencies. A five- to 10-minute time investment in creating and disseminating a meeting agenda can save you hours of wasted time and frustration.
Make it Happen
All of us at some point in our careers have felt frustrated a few days after a meeting (or, god forbid, a series of them). Often this frustration stems from meetings where all sorts of good ideas exchanged, but in the ensuing days nothing gets implemented.
Many times I see this breakdown with leaders who are used to carrying the load themselves and who default to internalizing ideas and mentally creating a to-do list for themselves. But your team needs direction. As the leader of the meeting, it’s your responsibility to sift through the solutions presented and synthesize them (or encourage your team to do so) into action items. In other words, the last step in any productive meeting should be the assignment of tasks to include concrete instructions with due dates and follow-up. Even if the meeting has gone long, do not skip this step or all that time spent will have been in vain.
The point of a meeting is to communicate problems, ideas and solutions cooperatively up and down the chain in an organization, with the goal of having your team doing their jobs more efficiently. The most effective meetings allow the team to get back to doing what they need to do as soon as possible, while arming the entire organization with the information and instructions needed to accomplish its goals. A short time investment in meeting preparation and direction can ensure that you, your people and your goals/ideas don’t get lost in the mire.
Practical Application Exercises
To apply the lessons in this article, here are some questions to ask yourself.
Immediately After Reading:
- What kinds of meetings at my company frequently get off track? What do those meetings have in common? People? Topics?
- What preparation can I take to help improve the flow and effectiveness of my meetings?
- In what kind of meetings have I been frustrated by a lack of results afterwards? Did I decide on and communicate next steps clearly?
Three Months After Reading:
- In what ways have I been able to improve and streamline my meetings?
- In what areas could I continue to improve our organization’s meetings?
About the Author
Josh Fiorini is the former CEO of PTR Industries, Inc. He spent the first decade of his career in finance, holding positions as an equity analyst and portfolio manager before starting his own hedge fund. This experience, along with a deep background in manufacturing, banking and private equity, has made him a sought-after contributor on numerous boards and discussion groups on political and economic issues for media outlets, corporations and community organizations. Fiorini currently invests his time and resources with non-profit initiatives and acts as a contributor and management consultant to various firms in the firearms industry as the founding and Managing Partner in the firm Narrow Gate Management.