Meetings can be some of the most rewarding, collaborative parts of your workday. They can also be some of the biggest wastes of time. As an entrepreneur, you’ll be deciding when to have meetings (and you’ll be directing them), so it’s on you to make sure each meeting is as smooth and productive as possible. Considering that one bad meeting could waste dozens of hours in cumulative time, you might be tempted to throw meetings out altogether, but don’t forget that meetings can be valuable opportunities to learn, brainstorm, solve problems, and reconnect as a group.
The key is to avoid these five major meeting mistakes, which prevent a meeting from achieving its potential as a collaborative unifier:
1. Neglecting the agenda.
The agenda is the most important part of the meeting, as it states the purpose of the meeting and dictates a general direction for its course. The meeting may head in some new directions based on the contributions of its participants, but the agenda provides an underlined goal for the entire event.
For example, if your meeting is to decide on a new logo for your brand, the agenda would exist to make sure the meeting stays more or less on topic and fixed on completing that goal. It also helps other members of the group arrive prepared and ready to participate. Going into a mystery meeting means fewer people will arrive with meaningful insights or contributions.
2. Inviting the wrong people.
Some bosses have a habit of inviting everyone they can think of to a meeting. This is enabled by technology; on most email clients, you can easily scroll down your list of contacts and invite new contacts with just a click. Before you know it, you have 15 people attending a meeting that could have done fine with just eight. It may not seem like a big deal to you, since it doesn’t take much time, but each person you add multiplies the total amount of time your meeting occupies. If you invite someone who doesn’t need to be present, you’ll add zero value to the meeting but increase its cost to the company. Instead, only invite parties who can positively add to the conversation.
3. Tolerating tangents.
As I mentioned before, it’s okay to veer slightly off course if it’s in the interest of achieving your meeting goal, but going on tangents is a bad idea. For example, when discussing the new company logo, one participant might mention a possible new marketing strategy, which can launch into a separate conversation that only a fraction of the attendees can participate in. This wastes time for the other participants, delays the achievement of the original meeting goal, and derails the original conversation. Whenever this happens, acknowledge it, earmark the topic as one that requires future exploration, and return to the agenda at hand. It’s your job as the meeting organizer to keep things on track.
4. Allowing lopsided participation.
Participation in meetings, assuming every participant is meant to be there, should be relatively equal. If a participant doesn’t bring anything to the meeting, his/her participation is a waste. Anything he/she learned from the experience could have been sent in a more digestible form. If a participant takes over the meeting by talking constantly, similarly his/her contributions could have been reduced to a more digestible form.
Conversation and balanced exchanges are at the heart of a productive meeting. To maintain this balance, serve as a moderator; choose the right people to include from the get-go, then make adjustments during the meeting to ensure everyone participates equally, such as calling people out when they contribute too much or not enough.
5. Failing to summarize action items post-meeting.
A successful meeting concludes with some meaningful new discovery, new action items or a final decision made. These findings should be effectively and concisely summarized at the end of the meeting, and sent to everyone who didn’t participate but is affected by the decision.
Summarizing action items is important. If you can, create a detailed, name-based list that recaps exactly who is responsible for what as a result of the meeting. This keeps everyone on track and prevents any miscommunication that could have occurred.
Avoid these five big mistakes and your meeting will be in good shape. As you have more meetings, pay careful attention to who participates, what conditions lead to more participation, and generally how much value you get out of each meeting compared to the cumulative time you’ve invested in them. Stay as concise and limited as possible, improve your selection and organization process with each iteration, and before long, you’ll have a perfect meeting rhythm to use in your business moving forward.