Wasting someone’s time is the subtlest form of murder. – Lindy West
As a professional in workspace, we’ve all been participant in different kinds of meetings, 1 on 1s, agile ceremonies, design reviews etc. It’s fair to say that most of our professional time in our career is occupied by meetings. If a meeting has 12 attendances and there are 5 minutes been wasted with off-topic discussion, we are simply talking about one hour of productivity loss.
Everybody is busy nowadays and their time are priceless. No matter you are a meeting organiser or meeting attendance, it’s vital to improve the productivity of meetings. So it’s a general good practice of always avoiding any forms of meeting whenever you can.
In my opinion, there are several reasons that leads a meeting to less productive session:
- Tons of less productive communication.
- Less preparation from attendances.
- Lack of outcome orientation.
To resolve above points, we can improve in following aspects and pick these low-hanging fruits as initial targets.
Clear Meeting Objective
If we want a meeting to run smoothly, every attendance should be clear on the Meeting Objective. What we want to achieve as the outcome from this particular meeting? Even you are not the meeting organiser, if you are not clear on the meeting outcome, you shall contact the organiser to inquiry about the Meeting outcomes and to resolve misunderstandings.
Meeting Objective needs to be clear and specific, unclear and intangible meeting objective will directly lead to tons of segue conversation that detouring from the original discussion points.
For example, if you are organising the team to discuss about an upcoming project in next month, then it’s not a clear meeting objective. What you want to discuss could be anything like the overall project timeline, or technical solution design, or a specific technical problem.
Maybe initially you want to discuss about project timeline, but this message is not communicated clearly to everyone. Possibly during the discussion, one of the technical SME may just point out a particular technical problem, and start to hijack following conversations.
If you have a clear Meeting Objective in your mind and clearly communicate to every attendance, anyone in the meeting will notice the detouring topic and redirect the conversation back to the original trajectory.
Clear Meeting Agenda
Meeting Agenda is a supplement to Meeting Objective. Meeting Agenda is a simple way to ensure everyone to have a similar understanding on the discussion topic.
We setup a meeting to discuss about a particular topic and try to figure out solutions collectively within the group, but not everyone have the sufficient context of the topic prior to the meeting. Keeping everybody on the same page can easily help you to dissect the problem within the group, and provide target suggestions correspondingly.
A good Meeting Agenda would include
- Meeting Objective
- Time Arrangement
- Background Context
- All referential information
This is so common in some sprint demo sessions that you hardly understand all the items in the demo session. One of the reasons is probably your colleague did not clearly communicate the background of this demo, and the problem that will be resolved in this demo. If you don’t have a cleared holistic view on the project, it’s hard to grasp all the nitty gritty technical challenges.
Invite Right Attendee
Even through I have to admit meeting is such a good way to kill your working time, but most of the time people DO NOT like meetings.
Mark Cuban , the owner of Dallas Mavericks, said that meetings are productivity killer , and the only way to get him participant in meeting is to write him a cheque .
In my opinion, the criteria of inviting meeting participants is either this person will contribute to meeting discussion significantly, or this person will learn a lot of the session. There is a high chance that too many attendance will lead to less productive or even useless discussions. It’s similar idea of not having too many companies when you travelling.
If you think it’s not necessary to attend a particular meeting, you are welcome to ask the organiser the necessaries of your attendance prior to the session, and to avoid wasting of time for both parties.
Do the Homework
Prepare meeting proactively will let the overall meeting more smoothly, and will also show up your professionalism in your workspace.
- If you are the meeting organiser, prepare the meeting agenda and time arrangement.
- If you will attend the 1 on 1 with your boss, prepare what you want to say, and what you want to ask.
- If you are attendee for meetings, familiarize yourself with context about the discussion topic and all the referential information.
Last minute preparation will always not workout, and it’s also an indicator that this particular meeting is not as vital as you think.
If you are the meeting organiser of an important meeting, try to rehearse yourself several times beforehand. Don’t underestimate the importance of rehearse, the way of speaking logically in an organised and clear way, the approach to distinguish primary and secondary discussion points, the tempo and rhythm of your talking, all will require lots of deliberate practice.
Despite the potential fact that English is not your native language, there may things that you don’t know how to articulate well in English. Factoring in nervousness of public speaking, it will be so easy to occur misunderstanding among attendees and finally lead to the wrong results that we dislike.
In addition, spending sometime to prepare any slides deck, key bullet points, or flowchart to assist you through the meeting. Humans are visual creatures , visualisation and diagrams will help others to understand the content that you want to deliver, especially when you want to discuss about complex technical problems in design review session.
By just talking through things will easily loss people’s focus after 15-20 minutes, and bad communication and stagnant message delivery will lead to meeting failure.
Take Meeting Note
Meeting Note is an indicator of Outcome-oriented focus, and is the direct asset generated from the meeting. Do you have the experience that you hardly recall anything from previous meeting one hour ago even through there were intensive discussions? This is because your meeting didn’t refine the meeting note.
The key element in meeting note is about Action Items. It’s a summary of meeting objective, any agreement and disagreement will reflect on action items. An Action Item also need to consider owner and ETA, and it will be easy to follow up and report. Ideally there should be only one owner again per action item to avoid further mis-action.
Apart from action item, it’s also a good practice to keep any Blockers into meeting note for future reference. It’s always searchable, trackable and reliable to jot things down to paper rather than keeping in people’s mind.
There are different ways of taking meeting notes, and you probably will have your own ways of noting so we don’t need to discuss about the format.
Further reading can be found at
- Meeting note template on Confluence .
- Impactful and effective meeting notes on Notion .
- Taking better meeting note on Monday .
All above are general best practice for having a productive meeting, and there are more practical tips in
Hope it helps.