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Meetings a Waste of Time? 6 Smart Ways to Fix Them

Team meetings cost you more than you think. Here are 6 ways to get the most out of them.
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Meetings are energy and time vampires. Sales people estimate they spend up to 40 percent of their time in internal meetings. Internal meetings! That means they are not prospecting, networking, presenting, writing proposals, closing or serving customers.

Of course internal meetings are necessary–but just how necessary? If you want to drive up productivity in your business, follow these simple guidelines when you have your internal meetings:

1. Value the Meeting

At the start of every internal meeting multiply the number of people in the room by a set amount of money per person and the length of the meeting and then write the amount on the board: “This is a $XXXX meeting.” If the average employee’s productivity (not wage) for a company is $100/hour, then the math is easy.

People forget that there is a large opportunity cost to every meeting. The point is that meetings are an investment: know how much and everyone may be more cautious about the investment.

2. Declare a Desired Outcome

Before you get started, state explicitly: What is supposed to change at the end of the meeting? Are we taking action, hiring someone, firing a vendor, determining a strategy, agreeing to fund an initiative, modifying a policy?

When you bring people together, it should be to change, develop, stop or start something.  Informing, keeping in the loop and getting everyone on the same page are bad reasons for meetings. There are other tools for that communication. Meet to do something.

3. Limit Your Topics

If you tighten the topic list–say, to no more than three items–you will tighten the attendee list, shorten the time frame and increase the potential for action. I have seen meetings that are laundry lists of reviews, discussions and feedback that do not lead to any real action. All of that can be handled digitally.

If you are not doing something, don’t meet. If you are, then do it deep, get it done and move on.

4. Control the Clock

In Robert’s Rules of Order, the touchstone of meeting protocols, time frames are carefully allotted by the chair of the meeting. There’s a reason for that: It controls the investment expense. When you set the topics, set the time you will allot for each item’s discussion. When the time is completed, either allot a defined amount of additional time as necessary, or make a decision based upon the discussion to that point.

5. Call Foul on Repeaters

The best meeting leaders will stop a participant (or the entire meeting) and declare, “It seems that we have heard all of the ideas on this topic and we are now repeating ourselves. Does anyone have a new comment to make that is neither a repeat of a past idea nor a counter to one?” If the answer is none, the chair calls for a decision and you move on.

6. Wrap Up with Commitments & Time Frames

This is easy enough to do if you set the outcome expectation at the beginning of the meeting. Review the decisions and changes made, remind those who made the commitments of their accountability and time frame, and declare the meeting ended.

Meetings are very expensive. They should not be the regular form of communication, but one reserved for truly important matters.

IMAGE: iStock
Last updated: Jan 4, 2012

TOM SEARCY | Columnist | Founder, Hunt Big Sales

Author, speaker, and consultant Tom Searcy is the foremost expert in large account sales. With Hunt Big Sales, he has helped clients land more than $5 billion in new sales. Click to get Searcy's weekly tips, or to learn more about Hunt Big Sales.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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