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12 Things Apple and Google Can Teach Us About Meetings

Let us all rise and bow our heads in silence to remember the valuable time, attention and productivity we have lost as a result of a bad meeting—they will be sorely missed. A bad meeting is draining, and a waste of time. They’re usually full of people who either talk a lot, don’t listen, or both. In fact, they’re worse than not having a meeting at all.

A good meeting, on the other hand, is completely different.

“It’s the most efficient way to present data and opinions to debate issues, and yes, to actually make decisions,” says former Google CEO Eric Schmidt. The innovative companies of today are redefining how meetings are shaping the workplace. We’ve picked out some of the best tips for making yours more effective.

  1. Define the purpose or agenda

A meeting should never cause an attendee to wonder “why am I here?” while staring off into space. Set an agenda, stick to it and you’ll find it much easier to prevent anyone’s time getting wasted.

  1. Conclude with distinct, actionable steps

Successful organisations encourage the use of concrete tasks to maintain productivity. Setting out what needs to be done in a clear manner ensures any progress or momentum achieved during the meeting continues once it’s finished.

  1. Be mindful of the clock

As the old saying goes, “work expands to the time you schedule for it”. Be clear about when the meeting will end and the time constraint will encourage creativity and limit irrelevant discussion. Try setting an alarm if you can’t keep track of time. Google even projects a giant clock or countdown on the wall to make it easier for meetings to stick to schedule.

  1. Implement a DRI

Apple is renowned for productivity, and a DRI (Directly Responsible Individual) is one of the ways in which they save time. A DRI is assigned to every item on meeting agendas to ensure it is clear who is responsible for each task without any confusion. This also keeps employees accountable for the work that they do.

  1. Don’t be afraid to challenge and be challenged

While there’s no need to bring anyone to tears, it’s vital that employees are ready to stand up for their work and discuss ideas in the face of honest criticism. If an individual doesn’t have an idea to propose, discuss or defend, what is the purpose of their presence at the meeting?

  1. Reach outcomes through an appointed decision maker

Google CEO Larry Page lists acting “like a hungry start-up” as one of the core reasons for the success of the company. Growth can cause lags in the efficiency of decision-making and meetings due to increased bureaucracy and red tape—appoint a single decision maker to ensure outcomes can be reached efficiently without excessive deliberating and deadlocks.

  1. Limit numbers

Meetings get less efficient as the number of attendees grows. Steve Jobs saw meetings as a time for small groups of smart people where the presence of all attendees must be absolutely essential. Experts recommend limiting meeting size to a maximum of 10 people and ensuring all those attending are able to contribute.

  1. Turn it off!

Just to clarify: meetings are for smart people, not smartphones. Unless your work is directly related to phones, take a leaf out of Obama’s book and get attendees to leave their phones at their desks. This simple measure is an easy way to encourage creativity and engage employees. if notes need to be taken, go old-school with pen and paper. In fact, jotting down information has been shown to lead to better conceptual recall than digital methods. Even doodling is reported to result in 29% higher retention of information according to a 2009 study at the University of Plymouth. Imagine the look on your old schoolteacher’s face!

  1. Trim the fat

There’s no need to go overboard, but be prepared to dispose of non-essentials that lack direction. Your meetings should reflect your company, and you should be able to progress through everything with a clear focus.

  1. Don’t let decisions be delayed by meetings

Holding off on a decision while you wait for a meeting can quickly impact the company’s productivity. If a meeting is essential for the decision to be made, schedule it as soon as possible.

  1. Give your employees some free time

Meetings, especially long ones, can be mentally demanding and stressful at times. Giving employees time to unwind after a meeting is a great way to relieve stress and get fresh ideas flowing. Many companies are allocating paid-free time post-meetings to boost employee performance: Google implemented a system where staff where given free time equal to 20% of the length of the meeting, a measure which saw the successful introduction of Gmail and Google Earth.

  1. Consider the environment

Is it absolutely necessary to host a particular meeting in the boardroom? If not, try mixing it up with a meeting in a quiet café or park to keep employees engaged and encourage the generation of new ideas. Meeting in a more relaxed environment may even begin to make the process pleasant—sounds crazy, but try it!

Now that you know what makes a meeting energise, not demoralise, apply them in your workplace and see the productivity flow. After all, Google and Apple must be doing something right!

If you have any other tricks to keep your meetings efficient, join the discussion by leaving a comment below.


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