Meetings account for the greatest amount of unproductive time (topping telephone calls, e-mails, paperwork, travel and office gossip), according to a Wall Street Journal survey. Despite the advent of advanced telecommunications technology, there’s still no escape from meetings. How can we make them more efficient, productive and creative?
First, ask yourself: Is this meeting absolutely necessary? Can the issue be resolved through a telephone conversation or a face-to-face get-together between two or perhaps three people? If so, then there’s no need for meeting in the first place.
If a meeting is absolutely necessary, then at least some thought has already been invested in the subject. A meeting without some preliminary work generally wastes everyone’s time.
Other important considerations:
- Agenda. Set a proper agenda and circulate it before the meeting. The agenda should cover a few key items only (preferably, no more than five). Issues that can easily be resolved by informal discussions between two or three people shouldn’t be included. The agenda must be strictly adhered to during the meeting.Fix the duration of the meeting beforehand, so that participants can make the necessary scheduling for the day. Allocate a maximum of two hours for each meeting.
- Humor. Humor is an excellent way to open up attendees’ minds prior to a meeting. Ten to 15 minutes spent on warming up and opening up the mind is really worthwhile. Consider:
- A brief session where attendees take turns telling jokes
- Watching snippets of comedy shows on TV
- Playing games that create laughter
- Telling funny stories
- Props. If the purpose of your meeting is to generate ideas for new designs or products, props are great for stimulating creativity. Place props relevant to the meeting around the conference room. Give attendees time to hold them, feel them and play with them. There’s nothing like a sensual experience to get the creative juices flowing!
If the meeting’s objective is to plan a sales campaign, place the materials from previous campaigns and those of other companies in the room. This can take the form of news clippings, advertisements, posters, videotapes and the actual products themselves. The meeting will take on a whole new dimension.
- Outsiders. Usually, meetings are confined to those directly involved with the specific agenda. If the meeting is about production, most likely only production people are called to attend. The result is tunnel vision or thinking inside the box.An effective alternative is to invite people from other departments to attend the meeting. You can even invite your own customers! Outsiders may not have the best knowledge or experience, but they can often ask naïve questions that triggering thinking in new directions.
- Different venues. If meetings are always held in the same place, attendees may say the same thing and think the same way. Why not hold meetings at different venues? Some possibilities:
- Change meeting rooms within the company itself. (This provides an opportunity for people from various departments to get to know each others’ work better.)
- Meet on the supplier’s or customer’s premises and invite them to join the meeting.
- Hold a meeting in an outlying holiday resort where attendees are casually dressed.
- “Meetingless Day.” Consider designating one day a week as “Meetingless Day.” On this day, in-house meetings are strictly forbidden. It may be difficult at first to implement, but soon it will become part of your corporate culture.
- Celebrate! Celebration is one of the most powerful ways to anchor success achieved since the previous meeting. The celebration experience can be simple (applause and handshakes all around) and still motivate attendees to strive toward future success.
Meetings should be fun and enjoyable, with those in attendance imbued with infectious enthusiasm. Your company will become known as a fun place and creative people will flock to work for you. These gold-collar workers will propel your company to a path of sustainable prosperity. Kam Keong Yew, Ph.D., is founder and CEO of Mindblood Sdn. Bhd., based in Malaysia.