A Tool Kit for Productive Meetings

Meetings. Love them or hate them, most of us have them on our schedule. In fact, there is a good chance you have one on your calendar today. In the era of hybrid and remote work, these seem to be happening at an even higher rate in an attempt to maintain communication and connection. But are these meetings really accomplishing that, or really anything at all?

Let’s start by looking at some statistics:

  • There are approximately 55 million meetings held each week. That’s at least 11 million per day and over a billion per year.
  • Harold Reimer, a researcher in the field of meetings, estimates that on average, a company loses $800,000 per year because of “meeting recovery” syndrome. (working harder to make up the time that was lost in the meeting)
  • 65% of employees agree that meetings prevent them from completing their own work.
  • A 3M survey of 2,800 executives revealed that the average employee spends 6 hours per week in meetings in which 35% of the time is wasted.
  • Professionals average 25.6 meetings a week, or 5.1 per day. Meetings have increased 69.7% since before lockdown when the average was only 15.1 meetings per week.
  • More than 37 billion is spent on unproductive meetings each year.
  • Studies suggest half of all meeting time is wasted because there is no agenda, people show up late, and people wander way off-topic.

Techniques for Keeping Meetings Focused

Despite being so frustrating, meetings are important. They are where direction gets set and decisions get made. Provided, of course, that they are run well. Having facilitated productive and unproductive meetings, I’d like to share some meeting techniques that, hopefully, will help you hate meetings less!

Before sharing the techniques, I need to make one important point: above all, make sure the meeting is a good use of everyone’s time! When people feel that having attended the meeting was worthwhile and valuable, they won’t bellyache about the meeting.

Here are some techniques to help you make good use of everyone’s meeting time.

POW and Agendas

Make sure that everyone agrees on the POW (purpose, outcome, and why) of the meeting. This will help you stay focused. Also using agendas will keep meetings focused on the meeting objective or desired outcome. Refer to the Techniques for Preventing Meeting Problems section for more details.

Parking Lot/Idea Bank

A Parking Lot is a place to “park” the ideas that are off-subject. It is a very simple technique to manage unrelated ideas—ideas that you want to save, but are not relevant to the meeting’s topic or objective. Some facilitators call this an Idea Bank or an Idea Bin. (We think “bank” has a better connotation than “bin.”) Post a flipchart on the wall and title it “Parking Lot” or “Idea Bank.” Whenever someone brings up issues or ideas that are off-subject, simply record them on the chart. Be sure that you follow up later on these issues and ideas.

Decisions/Action Items/Open Issues

Capturing and reporting key outcomes of the meeting are critical for follow-up activities. Rather than keeping minutes in the traditional narrative, the recorder can post three flip charts on the wall and title them “Issues,” “Decisions,” and “Action Items.” Then the recorder can add items to the flip charts when appropriate. If you use these charts, you may not need a separate “Parking Lot” chart.

The Action Items should include the following columns: What, By Whom, By When, Resources Needed, and Performance Indicators. The latter answers the question “How we will know if we did a good job?”

Clarifying Issues or Problems

Many groups have difficulty focusing on the issue or problem at hand. Often everyone is not clear about what the issue or problem actually is. Sometimes, they may not agree on what the issue problem is. The following technique can help define or clarify the issue or problem.

Pag/Pau (Problem as Given/Problem as Understood)

This technique allows everyone to share his or her understanding of the problem.

Record the problem statement on a flipchart. Some groups find it helpful to write the problem statement in the form of a question. For example, you may write, “How can we improve the functioning of our department?” Then ask participants to state the problem as they understand it. They may state the problem as, “How can we serve our customers better?” or “How can we be more productive?” or “How can we eliminate waste?”

The techniques from this post are an excerpt from a meeting resource kit I contributed to by Becky Jarrell called Powerful Meetings. I encourage you to give it a read and explore how you can really make meetings something that moves your business forward and builds strong connections within your organization.

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