8 steps to make your next meeting more productive

Make your meeting a productivity powerhouse—not a time waster—with these tips.
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Many organizations' cultures encourage team meetings, as they can be a valuable time for groups of employees to collaborate and innovate together. However, too often, meetings are unproductive, repetitive, and waste valuable time that employees could use for work. According to a Korn Ferry survey, 67% of employees claim that their job performance is negatively impacted by spending too much time in meetings. That number is far too high for modern companies interested in growth and productivity.

Because all types of organizations, including open source communities, depend on effective meetings and communication standards to get things done, many try to instill more effective meeting environments. For example, some carve out time each week when meetings are not allowed, so the company can reach a flow state. While this is helpful during that time, the rest of the week may be wasted by unproductive meetings.

The following steps can help make meetings more efficient and create a focused, productive workforce.

Before the meeting

1. Be prepared

Too many meetings begin with the question, "why are we here?" One way to make a meeting more productive is to ensure every participant understands the meeting's purpose before the meeting. The agenda should include the start and end time, the topics that will be covered, and a short description written by the organizer answering that "why" question. The easiest way to communicate these things is to share the meeting's agenda in the invitation, and certainly enough time before the meeting that participants can familiarize themselves with the documents before starting. This enables everyone to think about the meeting's goal, plan ahead, and arrive prepared to work toward that goal.

2. Is this necessary?

To prevent unnecessary meetings, everyone must understand the intended outcomes in advance. If the organizer is unable to articulate intentional goals and outcomes, then the meeting should be canceled or postponed until that happens. Also, think about whether the meeting's outcomes and decisions could be completed in an asynchronous fashion (with chat or email).

Thinking critically about the purpose of the meeting and the people who can contribute to that goal helps organizers and participants stay on task during the meeting. As Krystal D'Costa writes in Scientific American, "Since spectators aren't grounded in the project or invested in the outcome, they often derail the meeting." If you're an attendee and don't understand the meeting's purpose, don't be afraid to ask the organizer if you need to be there.

3. Keep people engaged remotely

For long-form remote meetings (beyond basic update calls), use videoconferencing to ensure attendance, accountability, and engagement. A full 93% of communication is nonverbal, and video meetings take advantage of that fact for productivity. Also, it is easy to disengage during a phone meeting by staying on mute or participating as little as possible while working on other things. This behavior perpetuates the cycle of unproductive meetings.

Videoconferencing increases meeting productivity, so using this collaboration method for remote meetings will have a major impact on the success of decisions going forward. Running productive remote meetings is especially important for open source communities with volunteers spread across geography trying to give back to the project. There are several open source videoconferencing tools. 

During the meeting

1. Encourage mindfulness

Most people are running to and from meetings (literally and figuratively), which causes a lack of focus. A proven practice to encourage meeting participants to re-engage and be mindful is to begin every meeting with at least 90 seconds of technology-free silence. This will allow everybody to switch gears so they can focus on the current meeting. This is a good time to display the meeting agenda and brief on a screen in the meeting room to remind everyone of its goals and purpose.

2. Begin with agreement

Before beginning, verify that everyone understands the meeting's objectives and the reason they are there. You can do this with a verbal yes in a small group or a non-verbal hand raise in a larger group. If there is any disagreement or confusion regarding the purpose of the meeting, one tangent or participant may sidetrack the entire meeting. This can lead to separate conversations later, which further draws everyone away from the larger picture and the original meeting goals.

3. Be conscious of time constraints

Every meeting should have a stated start and end time. Once a meeting reaches (or worse, exceeds) the allotted time, participants will begin to lose focus and start thinking about the next thing on their to-do list. By ending meetings five minutes early, attendees will have time to reflect on their decisions with a sense of calmness, which is key to ending a meeting with purpose.

4. Identify action items

During the meeting, be sure to establish any follow-up that will be needed, including identifying someone to lead each task (or to assign it if no one volunteers). In addition, assign someone in the room to provide status reports on that task going forward to ensure accountability. Reiterate all action items before the end of the meeting to get consensus on each task and so that people claim purposeful responsibility for their assignments.

After the meeting

1. Verify action items and next steps

At the end of the meeting, someone should send out the action items and who owns them to all attendees so that everyone knows what their tasks are. Between meetings and official reports, tracking tools like Trello and its open source alternatives can help everyone track the ongoing status of action items.

Some changes are better than none

Depending on your line of work, who you are meeting with, or the number of people in a meeting, it can be very difficult to implement all these changes. Even so, even implementing a few can dramatically increase productivity.

It is tempting to banish meetings altogether when the load is overwhelming and the productivity is low, but that is not plausible. Instead, enforcing productivity through these steps is well within your control as a meeting host or attendee.

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Emily Brand Red Hat
Chief Architect of the Northeast region at Red Hat focusing on building complex solutions for financial services, insurance and healthcare clients leveraging Red Hat technologies and professional services to improve business processes using a variety of technologies including Automation, Containers as a Service (CaaS), Infrastructure as a Services (IaaS) and integration technologies to moderniz

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