Posted by Robert Half on Monday, October 13, 2014 - 00:00 | Follow me
Riddle: What never starts on time, always runs long and often features material that could have been covered in an email?
Answer: A meeting.
These are only a few of the reasons people give as to why meetings are a waste of time. Well, perhaps not a complete waste: Only about a quarter of the meeting is ill spent, according to professionals interviewed for a Robert Half Management Resources survey.
Meetings are an inevitable part of every accountant’s week, but they serve an important purpose: Some topics and tasks require immediacy and direct interactions, and emailing just won’t suffice. Still, they continue to be a distraction for a majority of employees. The answer is not to do away with in-person meetings or phone conferences entirely, but to rethink and even revolutionize them.
How can you make meetings more efficient and productive so that 15 minutes of every hour is not squandered? Here’s some time management advice to help you hold meetings that matter.
1. Answer the why
Six in 10 survey respondents cited a lack of agenda or an inability to stick to one as major reasons why meetings are a waste of time. If you want to conduct more effective meetings, first ask yourself why you are calling everyone together. If you simply need to transmit some information, an email memo may be a more effective time management strategy. But if you do have solid reasons for the team to spend 30 minutes or an hour together, then by all means send out that meeting invite.
2. Give a heads up
Get the event on people’s calendars well in advance. Then a few days before the meeting, send out the agenda and any relevant documents they need to review. Attendees can better contribute if they do the required reading and preparation beforehand.
3. Stay on topic
The meeting is for discussing financial forecasting or an upcoming audit, not going on about celebrity gossip or someone’s vacation. Whether you’re leading the meeting or just there as an attendee, keep the chitchat to a minimum and focus on the agenda. Don’t be afraid to bring the conversation back on track if someone goes off topic, but do so in a professional and friendly manner.
4. Start and end when you say you will
Starting late is one big reason people find meetings so frustrating. Not only does a slow start waste time, but it also shows disrespect for the employees who are prompt. The same goes for ending on time, even if you haven’t covered everything on the agenda. Any unfinished business can be covered in an email or rolled into a future meeting.
5. Remember timing is everything
For effective meetings that don’t run long, try holding them an hour before noon. This way attendees have an incentive to be focused and engaged; nobody wants to spend part of their lunch break stuck in meetings. However, don’t hold them near the end of the day. Late afternoon is when workers like to answer emails and tie up loose ends before heading home. If you call a 4 p.m. meeting, especially if it’s a conference call meeting, attendees will likely be preoccupied and multitasking.
6. Reconsider the invite list
Unless an employee’s attendance is critical for achieving the meeting’s goals, make that person’s presence optional. Then send them the minutes or summary afterward so they can stay in the loop. Another reason for paring down the number of attendees is effective meetings: The fewer people who are in the meeting, the more participation there will be and the more likely you are to stick to the agenda.
7. Consider a day without meetings
As important as they may be, meetings — and the accompanying pop-up reminders — disrupt workflow. Here’s some management advice: Set aside one day a week for anything but meetings. Moveline, an online moving service, bans Tuesday meetings so its employees can dedicate one day to creativity. An added bonus: Because they’re so focused on solving big problems, email volume goes down on Tuesdays, said co-founder Kelly Eidson in an article for Fast Company. At software company Asana, the policy is No Meeting Wednesday so that workers know they have one solid day without interruptions. Fridays are popular days for banishing meetings, as it’s good to have the last day of the week to focus on wrapping up projects and starting the weekend with a clear desk.
As valuable as meetings can be, at some workplaces they have gotten so out of control that sitting, talking and listening are all that employees seem to be doing. Pinpointing why meetings are a waste of time at your workplace is a positive first step. Only then can you and your team work toward more effective meetings in the future.
This blog post first appeared in the CPA Insider newsletter from the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA).