Work meetings can waste a great deal of everyone's time.
But the goal isn't to have as few of them as possible. People often like the interaction — and with the right structure and atmosphere, they can be the productive, collaborative and creative highlight of your day. Unfortunately, most people don't know how to run meetings; they and fail to bring more thoughtfulness to the process.
As a management consultant who is obsessed with productivity and employee happiness, here's what I've learned about how the best teams do it:
1. They ask simplification questions
Before sending an invite, ask yourself the questions below to simplify the meeting and determine what's truly necessary:
- "What do I need to know?" This will prompt you to skip meetings where you can easily obtain the information without getting a bunch of people together. If there is a valid purpose, think about what your end goal is (e.g. fresh, creative ideas or a final decision on an important matter).
- "Who should I invite?" Really think about who is tactically needed. For the most part, only invite a person if they bring expertise or insight that's relevant, hold sole authority to make a decision, could learn from participating, or when they represent a population affected by the meeting outcome.
- "Where is 'good enough,' good enough?" This will help you streamline agendas and slides so they provide just the right amount of support and direction, without requiring more effort and time than needed.
2. They let people opt out
In environments of trust and efficiency, colleagues accept or decline meeting invites freely. They do what they consider best for the business. And when those choices are honored and respected, there's no hidden backlash.
Give yourself and your team true permission to select any of the following responses for every invitation:
- Accept: You believe you'll add value and/or reap benefits from attending. When people accept with freedom of choice, they're more engaged because they've been given the priceless gift of autonomy.
- Decline: You decide that the meeting will neither add value to your work nor, more importantly, that you'll add unique value.
- Send a sub: You know you won't be available, but don't want to delay the meeting. When leaders consider this option, it forces them to question whether they've been asked to attend tactically, or just as a statement. Use this method to develop your team or when someone knows the topic better than you.
- Be on call: When you're designated "on call," you're available but not present. You remain at your desk during the meeting slot, moving forward other tasks. But your phone is within reach in case you're pinged in by the meeting group to share information, answer questions or vote.
If you're hesitant to decline because of face-to-face desire, consider the legitimacy and optionality of that factor. Sitting next to "The Boss" can help your career, so you can sometimes accept for exposure — and there's nothing wrong with that. You're being intentional, and that's what we want.
3. They track boredom
Letting yourself experience boredom in a meeting can lead to valuable realizations.
Really think about why you're bored: Are you the wrong person to be there? Are you redundant with other peers in the room? Were you just scared to decline?
You'll either determine that work is sometimes boring, but you do serve a purpose in the meeting, or that you're clearly not contributing or benefitting. When the latter happens, take a pause and say in your head: "SBH" — short for Shouldn't Be Here.
I hear more wins from the subtle SBH tool than any other meeting technique. It can help us move from common sense (where we all know many meetings are a waste) to common practice (where we actually cancel or decline attendance at those meetings we don't belong in).
And if too many people are reporting a meeting as SBH, then you know the overall purpose or design of the meeting needs to change.
4. They leave room for "Hall Time"
As you begin to shrink the total amount of meetings you attend and call, make sure you also add some slices of critical white space between each meeting you keep.
Modeled after the high school construct, Hall Time — or a simple 10-minute gap between commitments — means a world of difference to our tired bodies and frazzled minds.
If we assume that our meetings are meaningful, it's important to digest the ideas and suggestions made within each before moving on. But in trapped back-to-back meetings, it's like putting food in your mouth all day and never swallowing.
Plus, post-meeting reflection time makes each meeting better than the last. We notice and ask if ideas were shared freely, if progress was made, and if we stayed on track. We learn from our missteps or good choices for next time.
Juliet Funt is the founder and CEO of a boutique efficiency firm, Juliet Funt Group, and the author of "A Minute to Think." She is an evangelist for freeing the potential of companies by unburdening their talent from busywork. Juliet has worked with several large companies, including Spotify, Abbott, Costco, Pepsi, Nike, Wells Fargo, Sephora, Sysco and ESPN. Follow her on Twitter @thejulietfunt.
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