Steven Covey, bestselling author of “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” suggests beginning every day, project and task “with a clear vision of your desired direction and destination.” You can make all your meetings much more productive by applying this principle. Starting all your meetings with an outcome in mind, long before even scheduling, it can work wonders to drive to more efficient meetings. Here are some simple ways to start a meeting with the end in mind and use your time more efficiently.
Focus Your Agenda on Action.
It’s not enough for you (the meeting host) to have decided on a mission for the meeting – you need to share it clearly and succinctly with everyone invited. Circulate a meeting agenda early, and often. This is especially important when you’re working with teams made up of different personalities. Don’t over complicate it either – make the items simple and actionable, like a checklist. Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg is known for showing up at meetings with a handwritten list of discussion points and action items. When they’re all crossed off, the meeting is over — even if it’s only lasted a few minutes. When each discussion item ends with an action list, you are also setting the teams expectations for follow-up. Your team leaves with a clear “to-do” list, and you’ll move your project forward more effectively.
Define a Problem in Advance.
If the purpose of the meeting is to brainstorm or solve a problem, a live collaborative discussion is important. Over the last few decades, group brainstorming has become the de-facto way to seek out creative solutions. Yet research has found that workers can actually be more productive when they brainstorm on their own. So share the problem or issue you’re trying to tackle in advance, and ask each participant to brainstorm prior to the meeting and come prepared to suggest ideas or solutions. This gives your team time to put some thought into the topic at hand, and share their thoughts clearly and succinctly within the meeting. Not everyone is good on their toes – so letting thoughts simmer for a day or two before the meeting can lead to some great ideas.
Create a Process for Accountability.
Once you have the action items, you need to make sure the right people will follow through on them. As the meeting host, you can set the method for follow up that works best for the group. Whether that’s an ongoing email thread, a living document, or a Slack channel. You’ll want to clearly assign each action to a team member, and set a deadline for that action. And don’t forget you, as the meeting host, you need to be accountable as well. Once actions are completed and results are in, you owe it to the group to report back on progress and the final outcome.
So take Covey’s advice to heart: Know your destination and the desired direction. Your team will follow your example — in a much more productive and satisfying way.