Recently, I returned from a meeting a client wanted me to attend as part of my initial analysis of the company. To be truthful, it was a real yawner. Even while writing about it on the return flight, I found it difficult to garner anything positive from it (and I always look for the positive). The meeting was another in a long line of time wasters and talent killers. Each bad meeting has its own quirks, but most go something like this…
The meeting is scheduled to start at 8:00 am. Since I am the outsider, I arrive at 7:40 am, hoping to meet new people and briefly get acquainted. Instead, I find myself alone in the meeting room. At 8:00 am, the person responsible for the meeting arrives (we’ll call this person the Leader). The Leader starts arranging tables and chairs, putting out the obligatory coffee and donuts, and stacking up handouts. Two other participants walk in, talking on cell phones. They each grab a coffee and sit down while talking and texting. They scan the handout material, still talking and texting. A few more people arrive. Since the meeting has not started, they deal with their personal belongings, get coffee, and mill around in relaxed conversation, like at a cocktail party.
At about 8:17 am the Leader announces, “Looks like some are going to be late, but let’s get started anyway.” Nobody is paying attention to the Leader who scans the room craving signs of respect. Slowly the participants take their seats, still talking, but in lower tones.
The Leader says, “Before we get started, let’s take care of some ‘housekeeping’ issues.” The Leader doesn’t have the group’s attention yet. Someone asks, “How long is this going to last? I have another meeting.” Another says, “I have to leave early.”
The Leader responds with, “Okay, but this information is important. Stay as long as you can.” “Now, first up is Judy’s report.” Judy picks up a pile of paper and passes it around. She then begins a sluggish overview of the obvious, but also mentions a few helpful extras. Many are flipping the pages and showing body language that shouts, “I have the information, who needs a report?” Judy continues, but I can see she senses that no one is paying close attention. When she finishes, nobody asks any questions.
The meeting continues along those lines and then Bob arrives late. He tiptoes (as if no one sees him) over to the coffee, gets a cup, and then moves toward Linda and murmurs “Anybody sitting here?” As he sits down everyone is watching, for no particular reason. The meeting continues. The awkwardness is evident.
As you can expect, meetings like this often will run over time because a few discussions get out of hand. The brainstorming on a particular issue doesn’t produce any new ideas, but it does bring up unresolved matters that you now need to add to the agenda.
Have I described any similarities to the meetings you’ve attended? When I think of the collective waste of time and talent, my eyes roll back in my head suggesting “death by meeting.”
Here are some tips that will make a difference in your next meeting. Implement these pointers, and let me know how the flow of the meeting improves.
1. Do not meet for dissemination of information. That’s why you have reports, email, messaging apps, etc.
2. Meet only for a predetermined purpose or objective. Once you eliminate the information meetings, what’s left? If it’s not about making a decision, why meet? Even brainstorming sessions have a structure.
3. Issue a written agenda to participants 24-48 hours in advance. Preparation for a meeting is imperative to its success.
4. Get coffee and get settled before the scheduled start time. Bring your own energy. Enter enthusiastically, greet others, ask questions, and offer pertinent suggestions. If because of an earthquake or tsunami, you must be late, don’t tiptoe in. Just say, “Good morning. Sorry I’m late.” Then sit down, shut up, and catch up.
5. Be prepared prior to the scheduled start time. Unprepared leadership loses the battle and maybe even the war.
6. Start on time. Do not honor last come first served. It’s rude! If you make people wait for tardy participants, guess when they will arrive for the next meeting.
7. Place all documents and materials at each seat before the scheduled start time. Assuming you distribute relevant reports and information beforehand, meeting materials should support anticipated decisions of the meeting agenda.
8. Do not discuss topics when no one present has decision authority regarding that issue. Without the decision maker, it is just talk.
9. Assign each agenda item a specified time limit. If a meeting lasts longer than an hour, I call it a Workshop. Limit the number of agenda items to allow a deserving amount of time for each. The best meetings may have only one to three items for decision.
10. Stick to the pre-approved and pre-meeting issued agenda. If you want to ensure a waste of time and talent, allow the meeting to go off agenda.
11. End on time, no matter what. Running over time is disrespectful and a sign of poor meeting management. People will look forward to your meetings if you can guarantee they will end on time.
Conducting meetings is a requirement of leadership—a key competence in how to run a business successfully. Whether you’re the owner of the company, a manager, or a team leader, learn how to meet less and achieve more and everyone will look forward to your meetings.
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