Every business wants to boost its productivity. When you have budget and resource constraints, increasing efficiency is the best way to get more done.
If you’ve taken a look at your team’s schedule, you might have realized that they’re spending too much time meeting and not enough time selling, creating, or whatever it is that they do best. You’re not alone: according to Atlassian, a productivity software company, the average U.S. professional burns 31 hours per month in redundant or overlong meetings.
Here are some ways to trim your meetings and turn your team into a productive machine.
Stick to the Schedule
This is the hardest tip to follow. It’s also the simplest. Be ruthless in your time management. If the meeting ends at 12:45, everyone leaves the room at 12:45.
If someone wants to continue a conversation with a colleague, encourage them to meet in small groups or at their own desk. Keep a smaller meeting going if someone’s getting something out of it, but dismiss others.
Setting limits on meeting times is a cultural change. If you’re able to use the hard cap, you’ll find that your colleagues will better respect your time in general.
Show Up on Time
This is another elegant solution that depends on culture. If your team members show up on time to every meeting, you’ll be amazed how much time you save.
Lisa Frame-Jacobsen, a management consultant, encountered this problem when she worked for a client with a large campus.
“What I found was that people were in transit between videos and teleconferencing, and meetings were being delayed by about fifteen minutes,” Frame-Jacobsen says. “When they got there, everyone would spend their time regrouping, getting settled, and stating the purpose of the meeting.”
Frame-Jacobsen got the client to institute a hard stop time on meetings. After her intervention, everyone showed up on time. Productivity increased dramatically.
Someone who couldn’t make a meeting on time in person could call in or skip it. In fact, conference calling can be really helpful in getting everyone to a meeting on time, even in a business where all meeting attendees are technically “on-site.” If the campus is large enough, or the elevators slow enough, conference calling might make more sense.
Empower a Moderator
Too often, meetings lose their purpose. Someone finds their way down a tangent or fixates on one specific detail.
Have the moderator call on speakers or select a presenter for every agenda item. That way, everyone will be able to say their piece, and nobody will interrupt or dominate the discussion.
You can even have the moderator control the amount of time anyone has the floor. It’s how every legislative body works—each speaker has a set amount of time to talk. When their time is up, the moderator says so. They sit down, and business continues.
If it works in Parliaments and Dumas and Congresses the world over, it can work in your office. The moderator should be able to respectfully interrupt a long monologue, even if they’re interrupting a bigwig.
Set an Agenda and Come Prepared
You’ll find that moderators gain superpowers if they have an agenda in their hands. They can move on to the next item when discussion goes in circles.
Agendas also help everyone else prepare for meetings. If everyone knows what’s coming up at the meeting on Friday, they can learn all they need to know—during their own time—on Wednesday and Thursday.
When you send the agenda, also send materials that everyone will need to consider. Expect attendees to read all of it. If someone isn’t familiar with what you’re reviewing, politely encourage them to get up to speed elsewhere.
Use Back Channels
You don’t have to get the whole band together to make decisions. It’s a drag to listen to two people talk about a “them” problem during a team meeting. Have them take that conversation to email.
Software like Slack and Basecamp can help also. Chat is a good alternative to email chains. It’s easier to read, and it makes asking questions simple and unintimidating.
If you’re a team leader or project manager, make sure that you’re available for one-on-ones, especially for quick questions or something that only affects part of your team.
If you can cut down on wasted time in team meetings, you’ll show that you’re a leader. After all, team leaders are expected to improve morale and productivity. If you trim the fat from your meeting schedule, you’ll do both.