Have you ever been to or led a meeting that ran really long in an effort to make it through the whole agenda? Or one that ended on time but most agenda items, including the ones you were interested in, were never addressed?
Every time you have several people in a room, you have multiple priorities, opinions, preferences and styles which will ensure that nothing will get done as quickly as you might be able to do alone. However, the richness of those dynamics is worth the tradeoff, but your expectations must be realistic.
First, you must expect people to want to share their opinions and concerns, and time must be built into the agenda for that to happen. If they are expected to simply sit and listen, then that must be communicated ahead of time to avoid frustrations. If you’d like to guide their participation, add specific bullet points to the agenda to do so.
Then, you must define the scope of the meeting to be small enough to realistically be completed. People like to walk out of a meeting feeling successful. If your expectation of what you can complete in 45 minutes is always too high, and nothing ever seems to get resolved, your participants will get frustrated and productivity will decrease further.
Consider what you expect to accomplish; then break it into parts. You wish to discuss Project A. Project A has many parts. Maybe the scope of the first meeting is to identify the main parts of the project, the key activities, define the milestones and the responsible people. The responsible people could get together at a future meeting to discuss their individual accountabilities and timeframes. Keep the scope manageable within in your meeting timeframe.
Small scope does not mean small expectations. When you discuss Project A, your expectation may be that it is approached from several new directions, everyone contributes to identifying key activities, each person excitedly accepts a key role and milestones are clearly defined – which is a challenge in many companies.
In order to realize those expectations, they must be communicated prior to the meeting in a written agenda, and possibly an invitation phone call; must be reiterated in the agenda and at the start of the meeting, and revisited throughout the meeting as they are accomplished.
A small scope in no way means that very little will be accomplished. It simply means that you will do an amazing job of discussing, brainstorming and working on results relating to a small piece of a larger puzzle.
If your meetings appear unproductive, remember Small Scope, BIG Expectations!