Do you often think “this meeting is an unproductive use of my time”? If you do, try asking yourself these four questions. The answers will help you and your team increase meeting productivity.

1. Is this meeting necessary?

I recently observed a group of more than 15 senior leaders during their 30-minute daily status meeting with their managers. Each leader gave an update on the organization’s assets that were out of service and when they would return to service. I started multiplying the number of leaders on the call by their average compensation and quickly realized this was not the best use of their time or the organization’s money. These daily meetings could be easily replaced by a daily web-based report updated by each leader by some agreed-on time. If managers or other leaders had questions or concerns, they could follow up with a quick call or email. Time saved? 2.5 hours x 15 leaders = 37.5 hours a week. That’s 150 leader hours a month. Ask yourself and your team, “Are we meeting on topics that can be handled more efficiently by some means other than a meeting?” The more you eliminate unnecessary meetings, the more time you have for meetings that really matter.

2. Am I needed for this meeting?

Even if a meeting is necessary and important, do you really need to be part of it? Ask yourself whether you have relevant information to share, could contribute a unique perspective to the discussion, or if you will be directly affected by the decisions to be made in the meeting. If not, express that to the meeting owner or the team and see if they agree. If they agree, you’ll save yourself a meeting and increase the time that each remaining meeting participants can speak.

3. Is it really possible to start on time?

If your team meetings are scheduled back to back, your meetings are likely to start late. Outlook Calendars allow us to schedule meetings that suspend the laws of physics: despite our penchant for multitasking, we can’t be in two different rooms at the same time. The solution is simple: remember high school when one class ended a few minutes before the next one began? Starting all your meetings 5 or 10 minutes after the hour, or ending them 5 or 10 minutes before the hour, will:

  • Send the message that time matters;
  • Increase the chance that meetings start and end on time with everyone present; and
  • Reduce frustration in the team.

4. Do we have enough time for this agenda?

Does your team routinely run out of time before completing a meeting agenda? It may not be reasonable to expect you will accomplish an agenda given the number of topics, the depth required to discuss them, or the number of people in the meeting. Let’s do the math again: assume you have a one-hour meeting with 10 team members to discuss and make decisions on 6 topics. That schedule allows each team member to speak only 1 minute about each topic, and the team must reach a decision on that topic within the same 10 minutes. That may work for simple issues, but not for complex ones. Teams routinely underestimate how long it will take to reach a decision, even when they are working effectively together. An impossible schedule gets teams unnecessarily frustrated. So, do the math and if it doesn’t add up, extend the time, shorten the agenda, or reduce the number of participants.