Everybody seems to hate meetings. We all complain about them. We’re too busy with real work to waste time sitting around, just talking.
Well, I recently had a very good, focused, and productive planning meeting with my key managers. There were many reasons it was good, but three things really helped ensure success.
First, I asked each participant a series of questions several days ahead of time and–this is important–asked them to really think about their answers. Thinking and writing help to clarify communication of ideas.
One of the most helpful questions was: “What is at least one thing we do that we shouldn’t be doing?” This prompted some good discussion. As business strategist Michael Porter has noted, “The essence of strategy is choosing what not to do.”
Second, I made everyone silence their mobile devices, collected them, and put them in a pile far away from the meeting table. For those who were taking notes on a laptop computer, I made them close Outlook (email) and Lync (messenger software).
Eliminating these tempting distractions was the key to enabling everyone in the room to truly focus 100% of their attention on the topics at hand. I saw a huge improvement in everyone’s attention level (including mine) during the meeting. The conversations were engaging, thoughtful, and productive.
Third, we took frequent breaks. Over about five hours, we took no fewer than three 20 minute breaks and a lunch break. It may seem counter intuitive because we spent more than 20% of our scheduled meeting time not meeting, but those breaks improved our attention, spirits, energy levels, and our ability to focus. Not convinced? Look at this well-known study of an Israeli Parole Board, which shows that decision making is improved after breaks during long meetings.
If you and your team suffer through unproductive, unfocused meetings, try these three simple tactics. They are sure to help.