Insight November 28, 2017

Cut the Fluff: 4 Strategies for More Productive Meetings


We’ve all been to one of those meetings. You arrive to a packed conference room, filled with managers surreptitiously answering emails under the conference table, as a faceless VP drones on about something totally unrelated to your work from a speaker in the center of the room.

Maybe your meetings aren’t quite that bad. But at any given time, most of us will run across one – or several – that are an ineffectual time-suck.

So, how do you bring together your team for meetings that spark creativity, inspire groundbreaking ideas, and maximize productivity?

Prep your attendees. Prior to any meeting, you should have a clear agenda and share it with your team. Not only will this explain the purpose of the meeting, but also it models efficiency for your attendees. Creating (and sticking to) an agenda demonstrates that you value their time. Plus, they’ll also have a document to refer to later, when they inevitably forget some of the key points you covered.

Here at inferno, we use a Creative Strategy Statement (CSS) for every project kickoff, and distribute it to the team prior to the initial meeting. This gives the creative team time to acquire some background information about the project, prepare questions, and start brainstorming before the meeting begins.

Shore up the guest list. Billable time is precious, and it shouldn’t be wasted. Even if you’re not in an industry where your time is billed to a specific project or client, it’s still rude to waste someone’s time. Before sending out a massive invite to your entire department (or even the project team), think about who really needs to participate in your meeting.

Ask yourself questions like:

  • Will Jill have expertise I need for this meeting?
  • Does Dan need to be included at this phase of the project?
  • Is Tim’s time better spent working on another project?
  • Would a recap email to the rest of the team be sufficient?

Early on in a project, we sometimes limit our meetings to the copywriter and account service team. Eventually, we know we’ll need an art director – but their portion of the project might not start for another month. Rather than waste their time in a kickoff meeting that they will have forgotten by the time they are needed, we put a regroup meeting on the calendar when the initial phase of the project is complete.

Be mindful of the time. Research shows that our attention span is much shorter than you might think. You really have about 10-18 minutes to engage your attendees before their attention starts to wander. To get the best results, it’s best to keep things short and sweet – and aim for a 15-minute meeting the majority of the time. Most calendar and productivity applications document time in 15-minute intervals, making it the perfect time frame for your meeting.

Two things can really help you manage time in your meetings:

  • Start on time. Waltzing into the meeting a minute or two late doesn’t seem like such a big deal in the moment – but the snowball effect of one delayed meeting can affect the rest of your day.
  • Keep an eye on the clock. When you create a meeting agenda, you should have some idea about how long you want to spend on each topic. Avoid “scope creep” by keeping the meeting on topic and following the time you’ve allotted for each portion of the agenda. If something outside the scope of your meeting comes up and needs to be addressed, schedule another time to work through it with the appropriate team.

Wrap it up! Even the most efficient meetings can be unproductive if your team leaves unsure about their next steps. It’s important to leave some time at the end of the meeting to summarize the outcome of the meeting and assign action items.

At inferno, we leave time at the end of every kickoff meeting to discuss immediate action items and assign them to the appropriate team member. Each item has a clear deadline, which helps keep the team accountable and the project moving.

Bonus Tip: Schedule time for the work.

Have you ever spent a morning ducking in and out of (productive) meetings with a few awkward intervals in-between? Five minutes here, twenty minutes there, and suddenly it’s lunchtime; you’ve accomplished none of your tasks for the day, and the afternoon looks like more of the same.

Not everyone has the authority to dictate when meetings occur. Perhaps there are a few VIPs that can meet only at a specific time, so your schedule is dictated by their availability. Wherever possible, though, you should try to block out time for the work.

In practice, there are two ways to approach the issue:

  • Schedule meetings only during set days/times. Maybe you meet with clients only on Tuesdays, or take internal meeting requests between 8 a.m. and 11 a.m. Whatever routine you select, share it with your team and be firm.
  • Block out time on your calendar to complete the work. If you can’t simply say you hold meetings only on Mondays or in the mornings, you can still take charge of your schedule. Carve out some time on your calendar for uninterrupted work, and post it as a meeting.