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10.23.08

Making Your Business Meetings Productive

By Ross Mayfield

Meetings are a big productivity killer that you can control by working together better. Studies have shown the cost of meetings, you probably spend a week per month in meetings, and you can calculate your own cost of meetings. The issue isn't just where you spend your team's time, but how you spend it. Vinnie Mirchandani, following my post in Forbes on Email Hell, points out the productivity problem isn't just email.

The other big productivity killer in corporations is meetings. I am constantly surprised to see too many of my client employees just go from meeting to meeting - then, of course come back to their desks to handle the deluge of email!

Like email, improving meeting productivity requires more than personal tactics. Through leadership, the behavior of the group must change. This distinction is critical in our current climate. Companies need to make do with less and doing so cannot be done through personal productivity gains but with efficient and effective coordination and collaboration of teams, the organization as a whole, and how partners and customers intersect.

Changing meetings is difficult because nowhere does company culture manifest itself, if not define itself, than through meetings. The meeting culture of some companies puts a premium on presentation, or cooperation to consensus, or conflict as creativity. Research has even shown that most meetings are status contests. Beyond this theater as a disclaimer, here is some practical advice to make meetings more effective and efficient:

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Do I need to be there?

Without a criteria for who should attend meetings, the attendee list tends to grow. Not only does having more people in the meeting effect the productivity of the meeting, but it keeps people from working on other things. Put responsibility for this criteria upon the person calling the meeting, as they have the greatest odds of abusing it.

Share notes

At the beginning of every meeting, ensure that someone is taking notes and how they will be shared. Better yet, have an established practice for how this is done in every meeting. Sharing notes can help decrease the attendee list for efficiency sake. How notes are taken can make the group more effective:

• Consider having the note taker project while taking notes. This clarifies and gains support for what was said and what is agreed to.

• Take notes in a wiki to make it easy to link to supporting materials, pass editing control to others, share while taking and makes the notes searchable and discoverable alongside other knowledge.

• Don't aim for meeting minutes, encourage summarization, but try to capture as much as possible. The great thing about meeting notes is that they carry with them the context of an event. Small things said may mean a lot in the future. For example, someone might contribute an alternative point of view that wasn't part of what might be the summary, but when someone finds it outside the meeting they can contact the person to further explore it.

• Focus on next steps. Conclude meetings with agreement on what was learned and the action items.

One tendency I have seen is to constrict note sharing for sake of politics. Sometimes this necessary, but the instinct for control tends to hamper productivity. For example, if division heads need to meet on an HR issue and craft a message for broader consumption, sometimes the meeting owner controls the notes. Always share notes with meeting attendees and have a protocol for how they will be shared further.

Continue reading this article.


About the Author:
Ross Mayfield is CEO and co-founder of Socialtext, an emerging provider of Enterprise Social Software that dramatically increases group productivity and develops a group memory. He also writes Ross Mayfield's Weblog which focuses on markets, technology and musings.

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