Five Ways To Ensure Effective Meetings
When did meetings get such a bad rep? I suppose it’s only human: the more meetings you go to makes you feel more important. Also it shows others how busy you are. Especially when scrambling late from one to another exhausted and distracted.
Over time and despite the best intentions, some meetings even have a way of morphing into escapism, habit, socializing, or simply an excuse for somebody to get more attention. My favorite was when an established department did an internal roadshow to tell everybody else exactly what their job was. In corporate land, this is called “licking the cookie” – so nobody else will eat it.
There are 25 million meetings per day in the U.S. today. Interestingly, a recent poll reports executives admitting that 67% of meetings are unproductive. This translates to $37 billion wasted every year.
There is little wonder why. We’ve all been there: glancing at phones underneath the conference table, trying to look deep in thought when you’re really thinking about lunch, or simply praying that nobody asks a question.
Take a sheet of paper and make a table with two columns. List out all the meetings you are currently committed to. Then in the second column, write out what you get out of each one.
Are all of these really necessary? Could this be done by one person then circulated via email for comments? Would a conference call suffice?
I’m not suggesting you ghost out of as meetings as possible. This is an exercise to make sure you are receiving the information you need to do your job or move a project forward. If not, perhaps it’s time for a talk with the group leader about how to best use this time.
Another caveat: I realize that there are companies and bosses whose pastime is meetings. I heard about a financial services firm, which shall go unnamed, that has a culture of scheduling meetings that require a series of pre-meetings beforehand to talk about what they will talk about in the meeting. Pruning can be impossible in these scenarios when it is so tied with company culture.
In these cases, try to cut down on the amount of time that is required. Could the pre-meeting be done in 15 minutes? Or maybe a brief phone call?
As much as possible, if you can send someone else in your stead, do it. This is a great way to demonstrate trust in your team. It’s likely you already meet regularly with people who report to you, so give them space to represent you and report back. Remember power is finite, but can be multiplied.
The best dinner parties max out at six people. My experience is meetings work the same way. There are diminishing returns once the invite list exceeds six people. Select alpha types are likely to dominate the conversation anyway.
A smaller list underscores the importance of the meeting with greater consequences if one doesn’t show up. It offers a greater opportunity to involve everyone in the discussion. Plus it is easier to schedule.
In the same vein, have an agenda and stick to it. The more specific the better. Give the group some background information to mull over beforehand in preparation so you can dive right in with questions or the issue at hand.
Although counter-intuitive, I recommend scheduling meetings before lunch or at the end of the day. This creates a natural break and unspoken shared goal of ending on time. Respect people’s time and welcome exits if the meeting is running over. If people are late, start without them.
There is no shame in ending a meeting early or asking permission to leave when you have said your piece. Embrace this tactic carefully since there is a risk of appearing brusque. However, it may surprise you that this an effective way to enforce boundaries.
Now I also understand the urge to want to stick around until the end for fear of missing out. To socialize, network, or eavesdrop on the stuff that’s really happening in the company. If you have the time, by all means, go for it. But don’t let gossip weigh you down. Sometimes ignorance is bliss.
“I’ve suffered a great many catastrophes in my life. Most of them never happened.”
And as a good friend reminds me, “if it’s for you, it won’t go by you.” And that goes double for meetings.