Meeting Hygiene for Better Productivity

Stop wasting your time. Meetings should be productive and meaningful.

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Can you check your calendar and think about how many meetings you have to attend this week? And how many are interesting?

Meetings are efficient when they are held with proper meeting hygiene standards.

Meeting hygiene consists of organization and efficiency of conversation. Participants’ time is valued. In the end, everyone should leave with a positive feeling that something has been achieved/decided/communicated.

The opposite is true in many companies. Make sure this is the case in your case.


The worst meeting you have ever attended

Think for a moment about a meeting you attended and it was the most awful meeting ever. How was it?

These signs of a poor meeting may come to your mind:

  • Attendees come late, and others have to wait for them.

  • There is no specific agenda to be discussed/the agenda is too wide.

  • It is a recurring meeting that no longer makes sense.

  • There are too many off-topic talks, chit-chat, jokes, and interruptions.

  • Someone steals the meeting leader's authority.

  • Attendees continue to work on their laptops and check their phones.

  • The meeting is overrun and some need to leave.

  • There are no clear outcomes, specific steps, or decisions made.

  • The meeting has rounded times of 30 min, 60 min, and 90 min.

  • Everyone is invited/some were not invited.

The list can go on. But could you do better?

1. What you need before a meeting

Meeting organization is often underestimated. It is simple, isn't it? Just book a meeting in Outlook and that is it?

Well, not quite.

There are three essential elements you need: an agenda, people, and time.

First, you need to know what you want to meet for. What kind of information is to be discussed or presented. The agenda should be specific, to the point, short, and actionable. Do you really need a meeting, though? Think twice before you send an invite. Email or a Teams thread might be enough.

Also, don’t fall for the recurring meeting trap. Many meetings are not needed anymore. Do the audit and delete the ghosts from your calendar.

Then you have people. Who to invite? Who is relevant to the topic or needs to be aware of that piece of information. Don’t over-invite, but don’t under-invite. The right people make meetings so much more efficient that they should not be taken for granted.

Last but not least, you need time. Be realistic and less corporate. Based on the agenda, you can estimate how long it will take. Don’t just go along with your boss’ suggestion to book it for 30 minutes.

If it is a discussion meeting, multiply the duration by two. If it is a short update, shorten the time. I usually book meetings and cut a short break out of them to have time to consolidate:

  • Instead of 30 min, I book 25 min

  • Instead of 60 min, I book 50 min

  • Etc.

Remember:

The longer the meeting, the less is accomplished. — Tim Cook

2. Start on time and finish on time

Last week I was meeting my friend at 2 pm. Five minutes before 2 pm, she texted that she was there. She is almost always on time! But punctuality is critical to any meeting.

Attendees should be on time, always.

When you write your invitation. Talk about the agenda, but also add a note that the meeting starts on time. See if magic happens.

Be kind to people. They often don’t have time to even walk to the toilet between meetings. Start on time, but always inform attendees that this is a ground rule. Using 20 minutes instead of 30 can be of significant help to you. You can’t join later since it is a short one. Meetings can go on and on.

Time is a precious commodity. Don’t waste it.

What is your agenda? Well, to finish on time.

Never ever over-run your meetings. Be respectful of others and let them leave. Time management is a skill.


3. Have a meeting facilitator

Meeting without a facilitator is no meeting. Take responsibility and run your meeting.

I had cases when others hijacked my meetings and took the lead. Don’t let that happen because you lose your agenda and discussions fall off the rails. Be assertive when needed.

A facilitator guides and ensures that the meeting agenda is followed. A meeting leader can and should put some topics on the parking lot that occur but are not part of the agenda. That’s critical to meeting hygiene standards.

The facilitator asks questions and makes sure that people don’t talk too much.

It is a role that oversees what is happening in the room and can read emotions and decide what the next step is. You need to know how to play on the right emotions to have a productive meeting.

Your meeting authority gives you the power to summarize the next steps and hold others accountable for specific actions.

4. Let positive energy flow

Little chit-chat and jokes can be super beneficial. I bet you don't like serious meetings. No one likes being told off and pressured.

It is difficult to keep your spirits high when you are in front of issues and heated discussions. Yet, if you aim to conclude the meeting on a positive note. Participants leave with positive feelings. The outcome of the meeting is going to be productive.

I had too many management meetings that positioned us against them. The end was always a waste of time and additional frustration.

Humour can break the tension.

No one is perfect. Don’t let others compete. They should always talk together, not against each other. Meeting hygiene is not stiff. It is human.

Here comes into play empathy. Say things as they are, as you feel them, and as they may experience them. It helps you build trust and be understanding.

Without understanding, you can hardly keep positive energy up.

5. Clear steps and closed topics

Why did you meet? What do you want to achieve and why? Explain yourself in the invitation. So, expectations are clear.

No surprises.

The beauty of meeting hygiene is in the outcome. Basically, everyone should know what was agreed upon and who was accountable for what.

In the end, you should have a list of topics that are closed and topics that need to be discussed or explored. The goal is to have as much clarity as possible and as few follow-up meetings as possible.

When the outcome of a meeting is to have another meeting, it has been a lousy meeting. — Herbert Hoover

Lastly, show some gratitude. Save yourself a minute or two at the end and thank attendees for their participation. Small things make big outcomes.

Final recommendations

Meetings should help you achieve something. It is not a breakfast club. Remember this quote:

If you had to identify, in one word, the reason why the human race has not achieved, and never will achieve, its full potential, that word would be meetings. — Dave Barry

Make your meetings effective and meaningful. Apply a few meeting hygiene standards and see that meetings can be productive and fun.



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