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Focused, shorter meetings = greater productivity


Meetings, whether face-to-face, over the phone or through video-conferencing, are both an organisational necessity and a potential black hole for corporate productivity. Too often, they can involve too many people, lack any real focus and take longer than they need. Worse still, the results of many such meetings can be limited – people will often leave without any real idea of what happens next and accountability will often be lost in the confusion.


So how does an organisation ensure that its meetings actually achieve what they need to? Is it possible to make sure that a meeting’s original aims – perhaps coming up with new ideas, perhaps coming up with a new strategy – really happen?


Keep it short


A Microsoft study from 2015 found that the average human attention span is just 8 seconds (as of 2013), falling from a comparatively attentive 12 seconds just 13 years earlier in 2000. By point of comparison, a goldfish is believed to have an average attention span of 9 seconds, so those hoping to keep everyone interested through a marathon four hour meeting might be swimming slightly against the tide.


Of course, this doesn’t mean cutting meetings to such a length, but it is maybe instructive in underlining the importance of keeping a meeting tightly on track and focused to avoid waning interest. The TED talks, for example, limit every speaker to just 18 minutes, mainly from a principle that this is enough time to dig into a topic while not losing the interest of the audience. Apply a similar policy to meetings – set a strict agenda, avoid becoming side-tracked in irrelevant discussion, and be assured enough to cut short people who take too long over a point or become distracted by an unscheduled issue.


Make sure meetings lead to action


Meetings, of course, should not be where the bulk of the work happens. Instead, they should be a forum for sharing ideas, deciding on a course of action, and then – crucially – working out who is responsible for producing each individual action point for the business. Make certain this happens by formalising the process – rigidly stick to agenda items and don’t move on to the next until a person present has taken responsibility for seeing that each necessary task gets done. Importantly, the chair of the meeting needs to make certain that everybody has the same understanding of what is expected from every individual.
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