Have you ever thought about the cost of each meeting you attend? Take an hour-long company-wide meeting for example. The cost of that meeting is essentially the cost per hour of each employee, as well as the opportunity cost of each employee not spending that time on their other things. That is likely a significant investment.
Like all things in business, you want to have the largest return on any investment you make. Walking out of a meeting (or ending a virtual call) and uttering “Well that was a waste of time” does not indicate a good return on investment. Instead, you want to walk out of a meeting and say “That would never have been as effective or efficient if we had tried to do it via email or in isolation”.
John C. Maxwell wrote, “Collaboration is multiplication”. But for this collaboration to happen, everyone needs to contribute.
Here are three behaviours that, if followed by all attending the meeting, can have a disproportionate impact on the success of the meeting:
1. Be punctual
A study done a few years ago showed that around 37% of meetings start late. There are different reasons for this, with the most common likely being participants arriving late.
- Don’t waste others’ time
For every minute that you’re late, you’re taking a minute from the other meeting attendees as the meeting now has to go over, or you need to spend additional time solving what hasn’t been solved.
- It’s a sign of respect
Being punctual is often a sign of respect, both from a junior to a senior and, potentially even more important, from a senior to a junior.
- Create a positive environment upfront
Being punctual assists in starting the meeting on a positive note and setting the scene that the meeting is important and the issues at hand deserve the time that has been dedicated to them.
What might help:
- Create the culture (from the top)
Being late to meetings should not become a destructive institutional habit (i.e. bad behaviours that have unintentionally become the norm in an organisation). If this is the case, you’ll need to take deliberate steps to change this. One way to do this is to start from the top and make sure the leadership is setting the right example.
- Use buffers
The inability to be punctual to meetings may also be a result of being too busy or having back-to-back meetings (which is a reality for many in the virtual world). Some ways to help could be adding buffer time in between meetings to allow for overruns and emergency breaks (book 25 min or 50 min meetings), critically assessing if each meeting is essential, and ensuring meetings are set for the right length of time.
2. Be present
A colleague recently said, “I would rather someone be late and engaged, than on time but disengaged”. Being present and engaged feels to be an elevated issue in the virtual working world given how easy it is to ‘switch-off’ while in a meeting.
- You were most likely invited to contribute
There should be a valid reason for each meeting in your diary. And there should be a valid reason for why you are part of the meeting. If not, why is it taking place and why are you are there?
- Good decisions can be hard and require attention
If the decision or outcome required from the meeting was simple, you shouldn’t be having a meeting. To ensure the outcome you arrive at within the meeting is informed and well thought through, remain present, take in the information being shared with you, and ask the right questions in the session.
What might help:
- Make sure you know why you’re there
Critically assess if you need to be attending the meeting, and understand your role in the meeting upfront. If you’re required merely to give input on a topic, assess whether you can give this via written communication or another way beforehand. If you’re required to understand the outcomes of the meetings, assess whether reading the minutes and next steps is adequate.
- Tap into your self-discipline
If you’re required to be there and understand your role, it may take self-discipline to stay engaged and participate (and keep that phone away from you).
- Ensure the meeting is keeping you engaged
There are a few ways in which you can ensure that meeting assists in keeping you engaged – keep it concise and stick to the agenda to meet the objectives. If the meeting starts going in the wrong direction, raise your concern.
3. Be prepared
The responsibility of being prepared lies with both the presenter and the participant.
- Because others are doing it
There is nothing more frustrating than you diligently doing all the pre-reading, research, and thinking before a meeting but then arriving to find out others haven’t. This means you have to start from scratch, listen to all the context again and sit through questions and comments that wouldn’t have been necessary had all participants properly prepared.
- Because time is a scarce resource
It’s equally frustrating attending a meeting set up for a specific reason and the presenter/facilitator has not done the preparations required. One person’s investment into preparation could have saved the time of multiple others. This is especially important if the purpose of the meeting is to make a specific decision, but not all elements to inform that decision have been prepared. A big part of preparation is also to inform the agenda and prioritise where the team spends their time.
What might help:
- Send out objectives, agenda, and prep required before the meeting
Again, it’s often about the culture and the example set from the top. Is it the norm to send out objectives, the agenda, and pre-reading / preparation beforehand? If you want to encourage participants to engage with information beforehand, ensure there is an action attached that you can monitor and push for (i.e. input required via a survey, voting required, etc.)
- Know what’s needed to make a decision
Dedicate time beforehand to find out what information may be required to make a specific decision (if that is the purpose of the meeting).
Not every meeting has the same objective, and not every meeting will be as effective and efficient as we want. But ensuring that all those attending the meeting are punctual, present, and prepared will help a great deal.
Make this part of your organisation’s culture, and expectations. And you might find that the number of meetings in your diary decrease as you start achieving more in less time.