The Big Question: How long should a business meeting take?

How do you ensure your time in a meeting is well spent? PIC: Thinkstock

How do you ensure your time in a meeting is well spent? PIC: Thinkstock - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Three experts offer advice on how to get the most from a meeting

Having a rule that no-one fiddles with their smartphone or tablet could ensure meetings are over mor

Having a rule that no-one fiddles with their smartphone or tablet could ensure meetings are over more quickly Pic: iStock - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

A recent report calculated that the UK economy loses £45bn each year due unnecessary and poorly organised meetings. How long should a business meeting take? What tips do you have for making the most of a meeting?

‘Insist on ‘no phone fiddling’...

Just the word ‘meeting’ is enough to get a lot of people rolling their eyes.

Whether it’s internal meetings, client prospect meetings, or meetings about planning a new schedule of meetings, they can drive a lot of us busy professionals to distraction.

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One of the biggest issues with how businesses and teams conduct meetings is a failure to set a clear objective from the outset.

This can help ensure everyone stays ‘on point’ and mindful of the ultimate ‘goal’ to be achieved from the gathering.

Carole Burman, managing director at MAD-HR

Carole Burman, managing director at MAD-HR

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Having clarity around that objective in advance – for all attendees – can guarantee everyone comes to the session with full awareness about the task in hand, and ideally, having had sight of any relevant material which will help inform decisions.

The other aspect likely to cause groaning is ‘meeting etiquette’. Set a maximum time, insist on ‘no phone fiddling’, and ban anyone from descending into conversations about last night’s TV.

(Carole Burman, managing director MAD-HR)

‘Focus on decisions, not discussion...’

Grant Thornton has an agile approach to working to encourage greater collaboration and productivity. Part of our ethos is ensuring all meetings held are absolutely necessary and only require participants to attend who are key to the discussion. With research showing half of meetings are considered a waste of time, this is vital to performance.

Ideally, keep meetings short - 30 minutes maximum – with a fixed start and end time. The purpose and expectations should be clearly communicated and all relevant materials, including an agenda, shared beforehand.

Tim Taylor at Grant Thornton

Tim Taylor at Grant Thornton - Credit: Archant

Choose your meeting format carefully. Discussions held standing are often shorter and for remote meetings, opt for video to ensure better concentration by reducing multitasking (4% multitask via video vs. 57% on the phone).

Ensure meetings remain on topic and focus on decisions, not discussion. Prioritise high value items and if certain people are dominating the conversation, ask others for ideas.

At the end of each agenda point, quickly summarise what has been said and ask people to confirm whether this is a fair assessment. Finally, capture all key points, actions and who they have been assigned to, for distribution later.

(Tim Taylor, partner at Grant Thornton’s Ipswich office)

‘Use technology for quick catch-ups...’

“We have clients from all around the UK, so regular meetings face to face just isn’t possible or cost effective for either party. We try to Skype regularly, using video as it’s important to see people’s faces and their reactions. We work from a real-time planning schedule which is accessible by both us and our clients so they always know what’s happening on their account, but a quick, regular catch up is vital for building effective relationships. We plan an agenda in advance and make notes of what we need to cover so we don’t miss anything, and then send meeting notes and actions immediately afterwards.

Clare Jordan at RB Agency

Clare Jordan at RB Agency - Credit: Archant

If you have a good working relationship with clients and you speak regularly then long winded, time-heavy meetings just aren’t necessary.”

(Clare Jordan, media manager at RB Agency in Felixstowe)

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