“If you had to identify, in one word, the reason why the human race has not achieved, and never will achieve, its full potential, that word would be ‘meetings.” – Dave Barry
Surveys over the past 12 years have repeatedly confirmed Dave’s sentiment. On average only two of every three hours spent at work are considered productive by IT professionals. The item most often cited reason for lost productivity is ineffective meetings. This only gets worse the higher up in the organization you climb. VPs and C-Suite people tend to spend more time in meetings than out of them.
If meetings are an abyss into which we throw our time, why do organizations hold them every day? And why do we do very little to improve them?
Fortunately, there is one simple step that you can take to vastly improve your meetings: follow an agenda.
Life Without an Agenda
When you have a meeting without an agenda, it starts a domino effect of cascading unproductive behaviors that derail the meeting. The figure below illustrates this.
Without an agenda:
- Invitees don’t know if they should attend of if they can send a delegate instead. They don’t know what will be covered.
- Invitees don’t know what they can do to prepare ahead of time and hence will be less productive during the meeting. They won’t have the figures they need; they won’t have the results of the recent analysis; they won’t have the relevant information at their fingertips.
- Since invitees don’t know how important the meeting will be, they won’t make it a priority to arrive on time. They may show up late.
- Without a critical mass of attendees present, you, as the meeting organizer, will be tempted to postpone the start of the meeting until the “important people” arrive.
- Without an agenda to keep the meeting on track, the discussion topics will tend to meander.
- People will begin to multitask, opting to be personally productive at the expense of the group’s productivity.
- Decisions will not be made and the unstated goal or reason for meeting will not be accomplished.
- As a result of all these, another meeting must be called. And the cycle begins again.
Life is Better with an Agenda
This fate is easily averted. Before sending out a meeting request, spend 5 to 10 minutes organizing an agenda for the meeting. Send the agenda with the meeting request. Your invitees will see the purpose of the meeting. They will recognize that you have prepared ahead of time and that the meeting will be worthwhile
During the meeting you can use the agenda as a yardstick by which to measure every topic that is discussed. This will keep from going down rabbit trails and keep the discussions focused on the meeting topic.
The result: people remain more engaged, productive discussions will ensue, and decisions will be made. As a bonus, your meeting will end on time.
Ahhh, but you say I do not have the time to create an agenda. I understand. We are all busy.
But I submit that you do not have the time to not make an agenda. If spending 10 minutes before a meeting will make the hour-long meeting more productive, not to mention eliminating the need for subsequent meetings, I don’t believe you can afford not to make an agenda.
So, what’s stopping you? Buck the trend. Create a corporate culture within your team that will increase your and your team’s productivity.