How to Avoid Meetings About Meetings

Often managers and leaders will host meetings thinking to bring everyone onto the same page. But these meetings, held with the purpose of sharing information or bringing people in on a common goal, can occasionally go awry. If you think you’ve seen a pattern in your company where meetings end with little else than time spent, you may be right — and you’re not alone. It’s not entirely uncommon for meetings to stray from their intentions, either failing to accomplish anything meaningful or, worse still, only producing subsequent and similarly unproductive meetings.

This can happen for a number of reasons, and we’ll discuss a few ways you can avoid this in your business.

Establish a Strict Agenda

Regularly scheduled meetings, or meetings that are called to meet a specific purpose should all follow a given formula. First and foremost, establish an agenda, and know when to move on to the next topic. When leading such a meeting, try to call for only new information. When the conversation exhausts any new input from your team, progress to the next topic. One thought to keep in mind is that not everyone may be ready to move on, or may want to continue revisiting the same topics. Think of this as an opportunity to address these concerns in a one-on-one setting — while it may not be productive to continue that dialogue with the entire team, your meeting has just highlighted an opportunity for a more efficient one-on-one interaction where that individual can still add their value. If you use Scoro or any other kind of project management software in your organization, organize your agendas and share them with your team ahead of time. Involving your team and allowing them to collaborate independently may not only result in better contributions, it will let them know the intended scope of the communication ahead of time.

Determine What Questions Need Answering Before the Meeting

The questions raised during your meeting need to focus on what is relevant to what your team is delivering right now, and the goals and challenges associated with those endeavors. When you see the conversation start to get “recycled” it’s time to step in and redirect the meeting back towards relevant information. This is not to say you should confront anyone or address this sort of thing with excessive bluntness. Asking someone to tie the tangent into the current dialogue, or asking what has changed to make this tangent relevant to the task at hand may well be all that’s needed to get the discussion back on track.

Identifying when information is relevant, or when a topic has been exhausted can be difficult. Particularly when meetings are open, and many speakers may be revolving through what they each believe is a relevant contribution. A rotation of questions is the answer to guiding meetings and can be done as a leader or as a participant. Design your questions to establish the link between what is being discussed and what needs to be accomplished, or to re-establish it, if you find your meetings often get side-tracked.

Encourage Participants to Bring Only New Information to the Table

Push each meeting participant to bring something new to the team. This environment will bring the team together in a more cohesive nature that everyone is now seen as a contributor. It’s up to the leader to acknowledge these contributions, and the efforts behind them. Recognizing that holding each person or each team is accountable for a certain group of tasks will encourage them to come to meetings prepared.

Set a Time Limit and Stick With It

Stressing urgency can be used as a driving force for quicker communication and a method of removing excess discussion. Lightning rounds of short answers to directed questions can create this fast-paced feeling. Distractions often result from opinions of others feedback rather than the actual content of that input itself. While this kind of pacing may not work for every meeting on every subject, it can lead to a high-energy, and no-nonsense, close to your meeting’s agenda. A simple closing statement such as “we all know we’re busy and have a deadline next week” will tie the meeting up and leave your team with an understanding of your goals and a sense of urgency towards meeting them.

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