We’re spending a lot of time in meetings. A painful amount of time in meetings. And now that many workforces are working remotely, we seem to have more meetings than ever. 

Before you hold yet another meeting, use effective meeting foundations and you might just start liking meetings again (okay, you might start liking them for the first time ever).

Here are the 4 P’s of Effective Meetings 

1. Purpose: Why are you having a meeting?

First, determine why you are having a meeting. I really shouldn’t have to tell you this, but do you actually even need a meeting? 

Your meeting purpose should start with an action verb like decide, discuss, collaborate or identify. Simply ask yourself, by the end of this meeting, what do you need to accomplish?  

Write down the meeting objective. Add it to the top of your meeting agenda and ensure the objective is listed when you send meeting invitations. 

Not only does this help you complete the next 3 P’s, it provides critical information to your participants so they know what to expect. 

2. Preparation: How should attendees prepare?

Next, identify what information is needed before the meeting can occur. Data may need to be collected to facilitate decision making. Action items may need to be completed from a prior meeting. The team might need clear decisions or direction from a leader before proceeding. 

Participants must come to the meeting prepared and ready to achieve the purpose. Sometimes, you simply need your co-workers to reflect upon the objective and gather their thoughts so you can go directly to the topic at hand when the meeting starts. 

3. Participation: Who needs to participate?

Identify the key stakeholders who are in a position to influence the outcome or who are impacted by the outcome. Typically, every stakeholder cannot be invited to the meeting, so select representatives who can speak for each stakeholder group. The representative can prepare by gathering feedback from their teams. After the meeting they can share information and decisions back to that same team. 

73%  of people work on other things during meetings. 

Utilize the Rule of 8. A meeting should not have more than 8 attendees (not including the facilitator and scribe). With more than 8, you create observers NOT participants. Each person must be able to actively participate. Each person must have adequate time to share their perspective, insights or findings. If an attendee is simply an observer, why not simply send them the meeting minutes or a report-out? A 5-minute communication of decisions made is a far more effective use of their time than 45 minutes of multi-tasking.  

Let’s be honest – when you have more than 8 people in a meeting, the tendency to multi-task is extremely high! In a large group, you instantly know that your full attention is not needed. You know that not everyone will have a chance to speak. Plus, in virtual environments, it’s incredibly challenging to constantly monitor more than 8 people for engagement.  

Instead of inviting a large crowd, scale down the scope of the meeting. Shorter 20-minute meetings with smaller groups are typically far more productive than marathon meetings with the entire department. 

Participants must come to the meeting prepared and ready to achieve the purpose.

4. Plan: What’s the plan?

Following a detailed agenda and starting on time can reduce meeting times up to  80%, yet only 37% of US meetings use agendas.

Each meeting must include a detailed agenda with each topic to be covered during the meeting. Order topics from most important to least to make sure the highest priority topics are addressed first. Share the purpose and full agenda before the meeting. Allow your participants time to prepare for the meeting and complete their action items.  

Assign a time limit to each topic and assign each topic to a participant to lead. And although you assign a time limit, be flexible. If exciting, productive conversation is happening, let it happen as long as you have time available. But if conversation veers off course, bring the team back to the agenda. 

Starting with the 4 P’s of Effective Meetings will drastically reduce your meeting madness! And maybe you can avoid becoming the subject of the next Dilbert cartoon. For more advanced tips, watch our Stop the Meeting Madness! webinar.

Author: Allison Greco

Author: Allison Greco

Founder, CII

I created my foundation with a B.S. in Industrial Engineering and MBA from the University of Oklahoma. Over the past decade, I have held Continuous and Process Improvement roles for Black Hills Energy, Williams, the US Air Force and BNSF Railway. I’ve started new CI programs and reinvigorated stale ones. Along the way I earned a Lean Six Sigma Black Belt and became a licensed Professional Engineer.