The art of making meetings work for small businesses

Jürg Widmer Probst

The art of making meetings work for small businesses

Jurg Widmer - Meeting

Imagine a technical failure that took most – or even all – of your business’s operations out of action for an hour. Think of the disruption it would cause to the normal daily processes of your company, and the productivity of your teams, if they weren’t able to email, or call, or get on with their work for a period of time.

It would be a major inconvenience. So, it is remarkable how addicted some small businesses are to something that has essentially the same impact as a power outage on the effective running of their operations: needless meetings.

Now – don’t get us wrong – meetings can, and are, a crucial part of business life, and they are essential in many ways to getting things done. But they can also be crippling to productivity and morale if they are not handled properly and are allowed to run out of control. This can be particularly the case in small companies, where a simple meeting between three people could easily constitute a third of the workforce being out of the loop for an hour. So, how can small business handle meetings more effectively?

Don’t have them in the first place.

Of course, the simplest strategy to take in order to avoid having unproductive meetings is simply not to have them in the first place.

Some meetings are essential, for operational, regulatory or even health and safety reasons. But many others aren’t – and their aims could perhaps be achieved simply by a quick phone call, or even an informal chat at someone’s desk.

One of the best ways to decide if a meeting is really necessary is a simple sense check – the next time you’re about to book one in, ask yourself whether anyone outside of the people attending it would care if it didn’t happen. If the answer is no, then there’s a good chance the meeting might well be unnecessary.

Make sure only the people who need to be there are there.

It seems obvious – but it is worth restating – that only people who need to be in meetings need to be in them. It’s a truth that is often forgotten – people are invited along to meetings for political reasons, because the organisers think they might be offended if they weren’t asked to come. Or, other attendees might be asked to come to a meeting that is too early or too late in the process to be relevant to them.

So, ask yourself what is the minimum number of people you can take to your next meeting? What can they each contribute, and how will their presence make achieving the stated goals of the meeting easier? Would they (or anyone else) really care if they weren’t asked for their contribution?

Keep them short and keep them focused.

We have worked with people before who impose incredibly strict rules on meetings, and it can often work in making sure that they are as productive as possible. One of the most effective ways of making sure that everyone in a meeting stays focused on the task in hand is simply to set a time limit.

Half an hour is a pretty effective length of time – it is long enough to be able to actually discuss matters properly and agree actions to get them done, but it is also short enough that the participants don’t relax too much and drift off-topic. Of course, we’re not saying don’t make time for small talk – it is an essential part of any meeting, to put people at their ease and build relationships – but don’t let it go on too long.

Make sure that everyone is completely clear beforehand on what they need to discuss, and keep everyone on track. Once the time is up, draw the meeting to a close, and – if you really have to – schedule another meeting to take things to the next stage.

Always have positive actions that come out of them.

That said, one of the least productive outcomes you can have from a meeting is an agreement to have another meeting, so try and create actions that won’t require everyone to get together again too soon.

Half an hour should be plenty of time to identify what needs to be done and the roles that everyone can play in achieving those goals, so make sure that all participants are completely clear about what is required from them.

Share the actions, and most importantly, track them – you can always catch up with people individually to see how they are getting on, without being everyone together again prematurely. When everyone has clear achievements they can share and report on, then the time is probably right to call another meeting and move on to the next stage.

Jürg Widmer Probst

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