8 tips to having more productive business meetings

How to make your meetings achieve twice as much in half the time.

Peter Iantorno November 20, 2014

The scourge of every office, the dreaded meeting has been proven to be one of the biggest time wasters in business.

Hours upon hours of endless inane chat with no decisions being made leads to nothing but wasted time and depleted staff morale. But it doesn't need to be that way.

Follow these eight simple pieces of advice and your average meeting will be transformed from a gruelling marathon to a walk in the park:

1. Avoid automatic meetings

There's something about the start of the week that causes panic meetings to update colleagues on how things are ticking along, when in reality that time would be better spent if everyone was allowed to sit quietly and wade through the masses of emails they received over the weekend.

While meetings with a purpose can certainly be a positive thing, meeting regularly just for the sake of it is a bad habit that leaves everyone concerned feeling resentful at having to waste valuable time when nothing is actually achieved.

2. Don't tolerate lateness

This might seem like a slightly military approach, but the fact is that if 10 people arrive on time and have to wait five minutes for a latecomer, that's 50 minutes of total working time wasted.

If you begin exactly on time, every time, and make latecomers suffer the embarrassment of having to excuse their way into the meeting, people will soon get the idea and start turning up promptly. Late man. 3. Have a time limit

A meeting without an agreed finishing point is an extremely dangerous thing when it comes to wasting time. It's easy for people to sit back and dance around the important facts when they know they've got as long as they want, but let them know that they only have 10 minutes and they'll get straight to the point.

Of course sometimes things overrun slightly. We're not saying you should cut someone off in full flow just because the allotted time has run out, but at least having a set time limit helps keep wasted time to a minimum.

4. Always set specific objectives

Not only should you have a definite list of objectives, but those objectives must be clearly communicated to everyone who attends the meeting.

To help keep things on track, make sure everyone can see a copy of the objectives at all times during the meeting, and if it's going off topic, refer to the list and steer it back on track.

5. Take a stand

This may not always be appropriate for your needs - if lots of notes need to be taken, or if the meeting is scheduled for an hour, for example - but for short meetings, consider asking everyone to remain standing.

A study by researchers from Stanford Business School showed that in stand-up meetings, groups took 34 per cent less time to make decisions, with no real difference in the quality of choices made. Standing meeting. 6. Avoid surprises

The meeting room is absolutely NOT the place to blindside a colleague with an accusation or an unexpected announcement.

If you have a problem with a person's work or if you need to address a separate issue that's not on the agenda, deal with it separately and don't get other people involved.

7. Cut the guest list

Irrespective of the size of the organisation, the number of people who attend a meeting must be controlled in order for the company's resources to be used most effectively.

What's the use of 30 people sitting in a huge conference room when there's no chance that all of them will be able to have an input? Keep the attendees down to only people who need to be there and who are in a position to offer a valuable input. Everyone else's time is best spent getting on with their work.

8. Evaluate

If anyone is walking out of the meeting wondering what was achieved or feeling confused about what they should be doing, that meeting was not effective.

Always allocate a couple of minutes at the end to go over what was decided, and make sure that everyone is clear and agrees with exactly what they need to do as a result.