To Boldly Go Where No Meeting Has Gone Before
Not even the visionary creators of Star Trek could imagine a future without business meetings.
Not even the visionary creators of Star Trek could imagine a future without business meetings. The Starship Enterprise’s crew members, though equipped with wearable communicators and voice-interface computers, still spent their fair share of time hashing out intergalactic issues in a sterile conference room.
In Star Trek, as in real life, meetings are vital to decision-making, information-sharing and group cohesion. But they can also be a vortex of time, swallowing huge swathes of your day like a black hole.
A Salary.com survey ranked excessive meetings as the biggest time-waster at work, beating out dealing with office politics. In another study, employees of an unnamed large company spent a collective 300,000 hours a year just supporting a weekly executive committee meeting.
While total resistance may be futile, meetings can be structured to maximize efficiency and minimize time suck. Following are suggestions for optimizing meetings to boldly go where no meeting has gone before:
- Break it down. Meetings that try to tackle too many topics or accommodate too many voices tend to get bogged down. Instead, hold smaller meetings with a narrow focus. For example, separate short-term planning sessions from long-term planning meetings, and separate brainstorming gatherings from decision-making meetings. “Participants tend to feel less accountable in crowded meetings,” writes Sue Shellenbarger of The Wall Street Journal. “They doubt that any contribution they make will be rewarded, resulting in a reduction of effort.”
- Map it out. As Stephen Covey advises in “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,” meeting planners should “Begin with the end in mind.” Start with a clear vision of your desired direction and destination. Send out agendas and give participants time in advance to brainstorm ideas. “A common assumption, that people generate better ideas when stimulated by large-group brainstorming, doesn’t hold up in research,” writes Shellenbarger.
- Do the leg work. Whether or not you’re formally asked to do so, gather your thoughts ahead of time. Prior to the meeting, make a follow-up call or check on a report so you can come armed with useful information.
- Start strong. Reiterate the purpose of the meeting at its outset. “If you want to have a more productive meeting, focus on a strong opening,” writes entrepreneur Liane Davey. “A good start to a meeting is like an overture: It sets the tone, introduces the major themes, and provides a preview of what you can expect.”
- Speak up. Speaking up early in a meeting helps you become a more active participant. “On a psychological level, it helps you feel a part of the meeting earlier, and people will often in turn direct their comments to you, whereas if you wait awhile to speak, the opposite usually happens,” says author Susan Cain.