Make Every Meeting More Productive by Asking These Four Tough Questions

One of the most precious resources in any business is time.  And yet, the same businesses that dispense nickels like they are manhole covers squander time like it’s water.

The biggest waster of time in modern business is meetings that have no owner and no purpose. They are set up because people can’t kick the meeting habit. Or perhaps because misery truly does love company.

As a result, hours are wasted every day in rooms full of people going through the motions of meeting without a clue as to what they are there to accomplish. How much more work could you do in a day if you weren’t trapped in pointless meetings?I have found that asking four simple questions can make every meeting more productive:

  1. Whose meeting is this?
  2. What are we supposed to accomplish?
  3. Do we have the right people in the room?
  4. How do we know when we are done?

Nothing too tough. They shouldn’t take more than a minute to answer.  But if you don’t get answers to all four, I’d suggest that you go back to your desk and do some real work because there’s little chance that the meeting you were invited to will accomplish anything.

Let’s go through them.  “Who’s meeting is this?” This is not a trick question.  Someone thought it was a good idea to get everyone together in a room.  That person should raise their hand. If no one steps up quickly,  it falls to the most senior person in the room to explain why you’re all there.

“What are we supposed to accomplish?” A meeting needs a purpose. A typical meeting costs $500 to $1,000 per hour.  And that’s just an average internal meeting not involving lawyers, consultants or CPAs.  If there was a meeting meter, where the leader had to insert that much cash to start the meeting, you better believe someone would ask why.

“Do we have the right people in the room?” Once you know who called this meeting and what you’re there to accomplish, look around a figure out if the right folks are around the table. If you’re missing someone essential, either get them in the room or reschedule the meeting. If other people are not needed, please release them to do something useful.

Finally, “How do we know when we are done?”  Meetings should end when they have accomplished their purpose. Not before. Not after. If you’ve agreed on the goal of the meeting, it’s pretty easy to tell whether you’ve accomplished it.

I was going to start this post by saying that I hate meetings. Then I realized, it’s not meetings that I hate, it’s wasting time. If you start asking these four questions, you’ll get more done in less time and spend less time in pointless meetings.