Nonprofit attorney Eileen Johnson recalls sitting in one board meeting where the vice chair was on his BlackBerry, the treasurer was reading The Wall Street Journal and another board member was knitting.
These are over-the-top examples of what goes on during unproductive meetings. Between vague agendas and never-ending PowerPoints, meetings have become a waste of time for many.
Here’s how some “experts” structure their huddles to make them productive and run smoothly:
1. Never schedule a meeting beyond 90 minutes. Bob Pozen, a senior lecturer at Harvard Business School, tells the Harvard Business Review (HBR) that at 90 minutes, “people turn off” and “the diminishing returns are staggering.”
2. Deliver meeting material the day before by e-mail, Pozen says. That way, you won’t waste precious minutes reviewing material as a group.
3. Require a one-page executive summary for all materials, Pozen says. The expectation is that all attendees must read the summary before the meeting.
4. Let meeting participants agree on deliverables and set their own timetables, at the end of the meeting. “Then they will have an ownership interest in the follow-up, rather than just going along with my directions,” he tells HBR.
5. Post the mission statement in the room, if you’re holding a board meeting, advises Johnson. Pick a mission-related topic to talk about first. Or hold the meeting in a location that’s central to the board’s mission.
6. Gather opinions with a round-robin approach, starting with the junior members, Johnson tells Association Bisnow. No “dittos” allowed.
7. Appoint someone to play devil’s advocate, says Johnson, to make sure problems are brought up and hard questions asked.
8. Do 80% of the work before the meeting. At Intel Corp., meeting holders must circulate a draft agenda to gather suggestions and revisions in advance.
The final one-pager includes the meeting’s purpose and goals, subtopics with time frames for each, a list of attendees and what each one should bring to the table.
“We know from experience that 80% of the hard work gets done before the meeting even begins,” Michael Fors, Intel’s corporate employee-development manager, tells Harvard. “We’re all responsible for using our time effectively, and we’re aware of the opportunity costs.”