Everyone hates meetings. When people get the chance to work from home, they undoubtedly say they're more productive because they don't have to go to meetings. In the thousands of meetings I've sat through, I can tell that within half an hour, most people tune out, and their capacity for creative thinking is mostly turned off.
But we all do a lot of work together. We need the collective wisdom of our colleagues to find new ideas and craft fresh directions. So how might meetings be more productive?
1. Stand up.
A lot of meetings just go on too long. There's often an implicit assumption that most meetings will last for two hours. So there's no rush to think, to commit, to move on. The cure for this is not to let people sit down. If you're standing up, you want to cut to the chase and move on--and out. We did this at companies I've led for meetings that were principally to update leadership or coordinate among the team. They never lasted more than 30 minutes.
2. Do your homework.
We're all guilty of counting on slow meetings to give us time to catch up on reading and preparation we should have done beforehand. If you want to eradicate this behavior, make it clear that no time will be spent at meetings aimlessly filling the time; everyone needs to come having done their homework. After the first meeting like this, everyone will get the drift.
3. Create live agendas.
Agendas are cues for everyone to go to sleep when items that don't interest them come up. To stop this, develop your agendas on the fly. Start off your meetings by asking what the issues are, list them, and then address them in the order that seems most relevant. When no one knows quite what's coming next, they'll keep paying attention.
When I worked as a consultant, I sat in meetings and did the mental math to determine the cost of a meeting: everyone's hourly rates multiplied by the hours we spent together. In many companies, every hour cost thousands of dollars. That alone taught me to keep things short and sweet. Meeting are expensive--so they better be worth it.