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Three Hacks for More Effective Meetings

First, something controversial: Meetings are great. That’s right, we said it. We know you and your teams (at least the hard working ones) hate meetings. They clog up your day, eat up precious hours you could have spent more productively, and leave you feeling frustrated. But meetings, done well, can be a source of innovation, direction-setting, and higher levels of productivity.

The importance of running an effective meeting is particularly acute for today’s business owners and leaders. There are a lot of tricks to run effective meetings, but these three are tailored for making your work day more productive:

Don’t Use a Meeting for Updates
Most meetings start by context setting. You probably do it, too. If you’re having a meeting to, decide the next steps to roll out a new offering, you’ll probably kick start the meeting by getting everyone on the same page about how far the team has already come.

That might not be worst idea, as long as the meeting doesn’t end up being an update.

In it’s Condensed Guide to Running Meetings, one of Harvard Business Review’s golden rules for having effective meetings is not to use them for updates. HBR spoke to Axtell and Francesca Gino, a professor at Harvard Business School and the author of Sidetracked: Why Our Decisions Get Derailed, and How We Can Stick to the Plan.

Axtell says: “If you’re only meeting to transfer information, rethink your approach. Why take up valuable time saying something you can just email?”

Keep Them Short, Keep Them Small
For most business owners, time is precious because more time spent in a discussion means less time out negotiating a deal or having a cuppa coffee with a client to build rapport.

Research has shown that, in a group, people will adjust how fast they work and how aggressively they attack a problem according to the amount of time they have. Reminds you of Parkinson's law: Work expands to fill the time available. 

By keeping your meeting short, you save time, keep it focused, and its participants more productive. 

Which leads us to another best practice: Keep the number of participants small. One of the aims of a meeting is to get everyone to contribute, otherwise why bother calling them? Even if everyone gets 10 minutes to talk, and you have 10 people, you’re meeting is now over an hour-and-a-half long. Yawn!

So what’s the magic number of participants? Well, there is not magic number. But the recommended maximum is seven. 

Kill Social Loafing
Meetings, especially those that are meant for brainstorming, are only as productive as the amount of participation from its members.

In meetings with large numbers of people, where participants know they will not get a chance to speak, they indulge in what’s known as social loafing. 

Social loafing takes place when members of a group contribute less than they can because they know others are pulling hard. 

According to research from French agricultural engineer Maximilien Ringelmann, when people in a group get together to accomplish a task, pulling on a rope for example, they make less of an effort than they would if they were working alone. This is despite the fact every member of the group actually believes they are doing their best. 

Ringelmann figured that the greater the number of people in a group, the more inefficient the group becomes. So make sure you get everyone’s involvement, even if it means calling out specific people. 

Also, non-participants tend not to pay attention, which gives them time to check their devices, lowering the overall momentum of the group; and engage in side discussions which distracts the entire team.

While there are a lot of best practices out there, applying just these three can make a huge difference. Unleash your meeting ninja.

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