It's Monday morning and, if you are like most managers, you will spend a significant portion of your week in meetings. Yuck and double yuck for us all! I can remember when I landed my first salary job. The Farah Fawcett look was in and I thought going to meetings was cool. That was two decades ago, and I now loathe them - or most meetings anyway. Every manager I know feels the same. Most business meetings are a waste of time.
If no one wants to go to meetings and they aren't effective, why do we continue to book and attend these workplace gatherings of mental torture? Who knows....
Some meetings solve problems or generate ideas, but the other 95% GOTTA GO!
1. Just say no! Don't go to meetings that are not a good use of your time. I do this much more than I used to and LOVE IT! Every time I am NOT in a useless meeting, I feel a sense of pleasure and freedom. My goal is to improve on this and cut out even more.
2. If you must attend a meeting (and we all must), make it as quick, painless, and effective as possible. Here are a few tips:
Schedule meetings at least a week in advance
Here’s a secret: When you plan and announce meetings a week or more in advance, you come across as organized and on top of things. This may not be true, of course, but for some reason having meetings scheduled out will leave this impression on others. So for that reason alone, it is a good habit! Scheduling a meeting in advance has a couple other advantages. First, you are more likely to find a time that works for everyone. Second, people will begin thinking about the subject (ok, maybe one person will think about it). To encourage participant thinking, include an explanation of the meeting topics and goals in your meeting notice.
Create and send out meeting agendas
This is another habit that will make you look good. Meetings need to have an agenda. When they don’t they can become verbal free-for-alls where the most relentless and annoying people win (you’ve been there, right?). The agenda defines the topics that you want to cover, and the overall goal for the discussion. Agendas help you control the focus of your meeting.
Show up on time to meetings
Whether they say it or not, it annoys people when you are late to meetings, especially if you are always late. Is your time more precious than others? If you are often late to meetings, chances are you are late to other appointments as well. Get over it and show up on time!
Send prereading materials to meeting participants
This has two purposes. First, to put together the prereading materials, you have to plan the meeting and know what you will cover. Planning the prereading helps you prepare for the meeting. Second, the prereading assignment will improve the quality of your meeting discussions.
Assume no one did the prereading and take the first few minutes to summarize
You ask: Why bother with the prereading if no one is going to take the time to review what I send out? Again, prepping the prereading is a good organization habit for you and the participants that don’t ignore your assignment. Even if everyone reviews the prereading, it is still a good idea to summarize the material and why you thought it was important.
Sounds silly, but your attendance (physical and mental) will go way up if you serve doughnuts. Make it Krispy Kremes and everyone will show up for the meeting early or on time for fear of missing out! To get the biggest bang for your doughnut dollar, you will want to let people know there will be melt in your mouth bundles of sugar joy the day before (and again right before the meeting). Have fun!
Ask the right questions
Have you ever been in a meeting and had something to say but didn’t because you didn’t want the meeting to go any longer? Count on that this will occur. Closed-ended questions, or no questions, can make a meeting dull and unproductive. By asking provocative and relevant open-ended questions, you can wake up participants who may be zoning out and improve the likelihood that something good and interesting happens. If you are not going to ask for feedback or input, send an email or memo – don’t waste people’s time unless you want them to be a part of the conversation.
Encourage candid participation
When people wimp out at meetings, they become tiresome and useless – a waste of time! The purpose of a meeting is to have an open and productive conversation about an important business topic and to move the topic forward. Reaching this goal requires open and candid communication. Use facilitative phrases like, “what I hear you saying is..” or “I get the sense that you think this is not working..” or “I would like to know all the reasons you think this plan could fail.”
Have fewer meetings!
I know this is redundant to #1, but it is worth mentioning again. Don't be a bad meeting maker. There are too many meetings. Push back on meetings that do not make sense or are unproductive. Only book a meeting when you have an important business issue to discuss and you want or need input, approval, or agreement. Even then, resist the urge to invite everyone and their brother – don’t waste people’s time unnecessarily. I am not a fan of regular staff meetings either - most are a waste of human resources and a mental drain.
Keep the meeting on track and on time
If you call the meeting, you call the shots. Respect people’s time by keeping the meeting as short as possible and within the time period you communicated. Exceed everyone’s expectations by finishing the meeting early! It is important to allow for participation but beware of this turning into scope creep. For example, a meeting focused on creating an IT wish list should not turn into a discussion of Bill Gates’ gargantuan electricity bill.
Here's a challenge for all meeting warriors out there. Cut your meeting time in half this week and notice how this impacts your productivity and mood!
If you want to get better at conducting and participating in meetings, try reading The Skilled Facilitator by Roger Schwarz.