All businesses, large and small, need collaboration time to get the job done. For many employees, meetings can sometimes feel like a chore. Whether there are too many or too few, whether they should have been an email or are just a waste of time, poor meetings expend your most valuable resources: time and people. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that U.S. companies lose billions of dollars each year because of unnecessary meetings.
Efficient meetings, on the contrary, will ensure effective collaboration, which is crucial for making smart decisions and achieving company and revenue goals. In essence, it’s particularly true for small businesses. Since small businesses have fewer employees, everyone often wears many different hats. That means more multitasking, more collective decision-making, and plenty of unique challenges that only good communication and planning can address.
A handful of key practices can keep your teams on the right track. Here are five simple ways to improve small business meetings and keep productivity high.
1. Establish rhythm and routine
With so much to do and so few people to do it, regularly scheduled meetings are vital for small businesses. These can be weekly staff meetings, monthly brainstorm meetings, quarterly retroactive meetings, or even daily check-ins. What’s important is creating an agreed-upon rhythm that makes sense for your staff and aligns with your business goals. Random or unexpected meetings make it hard for staffers to come prepared; they also make it harder for people to have the time they need to do their actual job.
- Structure is important: If it’s clear when meetings are held and what they will be about, it’s more likely everyone will manage their time in order to attend and productively participate.
- Goal-setting is key: Cadenced meetings make it easier for everyone to set goals and then measure and track their performance and progress toward that goal.
- A meeting can be quick: Some companies use daily “standups,” or status-update meetings, designed to be so short that no one needs to sit down. These keep everyone in sync and reduce bottlenecks without taking precious time away from the task.
2. Set an agenda
No one wants to attend a business meeting that’s vague and disorganized. Plus, the inefficiency costs money. A 2019 report estimates that poorly organized meetings have cost the U.S. economy billions of dollars in wasted time and have negatively impacted client relationships. Here are some practical tips for setting the agenda:
- Make a plan: Writing out a specific agenda for a meeting can keep everyone on task. Use an agenda template to organize your meeting topics and time.
- Keep it focused: Having a limited number of items to discuss helps keep the meeting at a reasonable length.
- Have a goal: Choose a limited number of goals or items that need accomplishing. A meeting with a clear goal is likely to feel more valuable to its participants.
- Focus on solutions, not problems: Being solution-oriented helps make meetings more productive, especially if team members have brainstormed solutions beforehand.
3. Generate faster feedback
Often, projects can stagnate when one person is waiting on another to give their input. You can make meeting time count as time on task by using online collaboration tools that help you tackle projects, meet face-to-face with remote clients or collaborate on documents in real-time.
- Work on documents together: Real-time document writing and revision, and cloud storage of all the versions of those documents means no one is waiting around for feedback or confused about which version is the latest. It can all happen right away, as part of the discussion.
- Try video conferencing: Bringing clients or team members into a meeting face-to-face even if they can’t be there in person can speed up response times.
- Share visuals: Online tools help you share your screen, collaborate on timelines and schedules, and much more.
4. Use a decision model
Because small business employees’ roles and responsibilities are always changing to meet the business needs, identifying decision-makers and project managers can be difficult. Using a decision matrix or diagram can be a lifesaver (and a timesaver). Here are a couple of examples of tools that help identify roles and responsibilities:
These are tools that ensure everyone knows who’s responsible for what aspects of a project or decision. Ideally, this is done in a meeting before the project starts.
- RACI: The group decides who is “Responsible” for working on an action, who is “Accountable” for making sure it gets done, who is “Consulted” on the project, and who is simply “Informed” about it. You can make a chart listing tasks on the Y-axis and employee names on the X-axis and label each person and assignment with a RACI letter.
- DACI: in this similar model, the “Driver” is in charge of a project, the “Approver” is responsible for signing off on a project, a “Contributor” is someone who helps out with a project, and the “Informed” keep abreast of the project.
Both RACI and DACI can help reduce delays and confusion. Also, if one person is responsible for too many tasks, a RACI/DACI chart can make this clear.
This is a simple, visual way to represent an issue, its options, and various consequences or mitigating factors.
Develop a process
The key is having a model or process, not what that process is. When there’s a system, and it’s practiced, decision-making and allocating responsibilities get easier.
5. Share ownership
While delegating tasks and decisions is vital for the success of any small business (or small business meeting), truly effective collaboration means shared ownership of goals and outcomes. A collective sense of responsibility in every meeting helps everyone stay on track and stay engaged.
- Meet face-to-face: Sometimes, to solve a problem, you need to get off email, get together in person, and get on the same page.
- Steer clear of the “that’s not my job” mindset: Even if team members take on different tasks, equal ownership for the company wins and losses means everyone is more inclined to step up for the group.
- Embrace diverse perspectives: Allowing for shared ownership in decision-making can help your business thrive in unexpected ways.
- Drive accountability: Document decisions and capture important follow-ups with a meeting minutes template.
Above all, it’s imperative for any model, tool or routine you choose matches your company’s structure and culture. But integrating some of these tips can help save time, improve teamwork and help manage the endless challenges of running a small business.
Learn more about small business meetings and the tools that can help your teams better collaborate and innovate.