coworkers in a team meeting
From preparation to execution, business leaders should familiarize themselves with the best methods to encourage productivity in meetings. — Getty Images/gradyreese

Companies of all sizes rely on meetings with staff and reviews from clients to communicate ideas, solve problems and present initiatives. In fact, over 55 million meetings occur every day in America. Yet one in three meetings waste time, contributing to an estimated $37 billion squandered ever year due to unproductive meetings.

Since small businesses aren’t always flush with extra time and money, careful planning and conducting of meetings is imperative to ensure that goals are accomplished and desired outcomes are reached. Three experts provide their best recommendations to help you steer meetings straight and maximize productivity.

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Choose meeting participants carefully

Meetings often become unwieldy when too many people attend — especially individuals who don’t factor into your meeting objectives.

When planning your invite list, first follow the “rule of seven,” “which states that every attendee over a total of seven reduces your likelihood by 10 percent that the group will be able to make an informed decision,” said Simone Maxwell, business professor at Purdue University Global. “So if it’s a problem-solving or decision-making meeting, aim for no more than eight participants. But if you’re brainstorming, invite as many as 18 people; and if you want to disseminate or share information, invite as many people as you want.”

Second, when selecting participants, consider whether they can own an agenda item or if their role aligns with the meeting’s overall purpose. Ask the following questions:

  • Is their expertise needed?
  • Do they have worthy insights to contribute?
  • Will they be responsible for outcomes?
  • Will they work well and communicate with others in the meeting?
  • Are their thinking behaviors aligned with the meeting’s objective?

If the answers are “yes,” they should probably be invited.

Third, be sure that those you invite fulfill key competencies.

“You should at least have a host or presenter, a discussion contributor, an agenda contributor, a special project participant, and a brainstorming contributor,” Maxwell said.

Teams that collaborate on documenting their decisions and next steps together during the meeting are more engaged, efficient, and committed to those results.

J. Elise Keith, founder and CEO of Lucid Meetings

Turn to the right tech tools

PowerPoint presentations and video conferencing capabilities aren’t the only technologies that planners can utilize to execute an effective meeting. Meeting management software, like SoapBox, Cisco WebEx, Lucid Meetings and MeetingKing make it easy for participants to collaborate on meeting agendas and capture meeting notes.

“These systems show everyone the best way for teams in your organization to run their meetings,” said J. Elise Keith, founder and CEO of Lucid Meetings. “Teams that collaborate on documenting their decisions and next steps together during the meeting are more engaged, efficient, and committed to those results.”

This special software makes meeting instructions available to everyone, saving time and ensuring that all are on the same page.

“No one has to guess what should be on the agenda, how long the meeting should be, how to lead each part of the discussion, or what needs to get written down. Your meeting management system spells all that out, making it possible for your organization to bring in a great meeting process and then quickly spread that to every team member,” Keith added.

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Frame and flip the focus of the meeting

Cheri Torres, lead catalyst at Collaborative by Design, said traditional attempts at problem-solving during a meeting often don’t work. Instead, she advised setting a clear focus and asking generative questions, “which actually increases meaningful engagement, teamwork, creativity and energy. It’s the fastest way to surface possibilities for moving forward when there are obstacles or complex issues to resolve.”

Torres related a real-life example of Mary, a senior administrator at a growing hospital where nursing staff were stretched thin and patient satisfaction was slipping. Previous staff meetings to address these problems resulted in animosity. But Mary tried a new approach in her next mandatory meeting: a process Torres called “flipping,” that aims to reframe a conversation during a meeting.

“It starts with naming the problem — low patient satisfaction scores,” said Torres. “Next, you flip it by naming the positive opposite — high scores. Then, frame it by articulating your desired outcomes — highly satisfied patients.”

Lastly, ask generative questions. Mary framed the conversation around discovering what contributed to patients who indicated they were satisfied. She asked: What was different about them? What were staff doing to support them? And what could we do to make them even more comfortable, at ease, happy or cared for?

“This process made staff feel more engaged and energetic. Before long, patient satisfaction shot up on every unit.”

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

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