You only have to watch one session of NBC’s “The Office” to get an idea of what an unproductive meeting can look like. The unfortunate thing is that many real time meetings are very similar to the fictional gatherings of Michael Scott. No doubt you are familiar with the concept “death by meeting” – where poorly planned, unessential, none-inspirational, or meetings that produce no results are a big time and resource waster. Let us have a look at 10 essential steps to create productive meetings that produce real measurable results.
From experience I have learnt that you can understand a lot about a person from the number of meetings they schedule or attend. You know, I have found that the people who are more productive tend to call few meetings and also do not often go to meetings unless their attendance is absolutely necessary. It does not matter what sort of meeting it is, an executive or board meeting, at staff or management levels or project meetings, the same principles apply to running effective meetings.
I have been involved in organizations where the CEO loved to have lots of meetings. We held meetings all the time about pretty well every topic you could imagine. However we usually held meetings generally for one reason: The CEO was not a great leader who was able to make decisions. Unfortunately, rarely did these meetings result in accomplishing anything useful. This was mainly due to the meetings being poorly conceived and badly facilitated. Most of these meetings resulted in being rehashing sessions for subjects not resolved in earlier meetings – something many of you are probably quite familiar with.
Meetings that are unproductive do not serve a purpose, but rather waste time and resources of the organization and the people involved. They distract people away from productive activity and can have the result of causing a downturn in morale and lack of leadership confidence.
There is a great book entitled: Read This Before Our Next Meeting by Al Pittampalli that is worth reading. This book is easy to read and nails the problem of most meetings, which is: “most meetings delay decisions rather than enable them.” The following excerpt is an example from the book;
Q: “What if I end up making a decision that not everyone agrees with?”
A: “Congratulations are in order. You’re a leader.”
Most meetings are not productive – they kill productivity. If leaders spend more time showing leadership and less time presiding over unproductive meetings the world would be a better place. In reality there is really no excuse for holding an unproductive meeting. Any sensible person will not attend a meeting unless it is a good use of their time. If you are going to attend a meeting then you need to know why the meeting has been called, who is going to be at the meeting, has an agenda been produced and circulated, with plenty of time beforehand to allow for all parties to prepare which contains the objectives of the meeting (preferably something that can be measured).
Meeting will never disappear, and have their uses, so let’s focus on how we can make them more productive. Below are 10 simple rules to make your meetings successful.
- Organization Culture: Create a culture in your organization where meetings are the exception, occur when absolutely necessary rather than because it is the rule. When meetings occur on rare occasions the laws of scarcity comes into play, which then has the effect of causing the meeting to be valued more highly and effective. 80% of meetings really never need to happen, so it makes much more sense to put your energy on the 20% that that can be really effective. If leadership applies good standards then so will the rest of the organization.
- Define the Purpose:It is important to remember, the reason we have a meeting is to create solutions and not to create problems. We are planning and to alleviate frustration - not cause them. This takes place through some type of value creation. Value is created through action. Discussing problems does not solve problems. Hoping for opportunities to appear is not the same thing as creating an opportunity. Idealizing does not create innovation. Essentially the bottom-line is that a meeting that does not drive action is a waste of time – no exceptions. (See deliverables below).
- Creating Schedules: Impromptu meetings rarely work. (They are a bit like “drive-bys”). Innovation and creativity are stimulated by structure and not stifled by it. If the subject of the meeting is really worth bringing up, then it is also essential to plan for it. This sort of preparation is very important and takes time. A agenda with detail for a meeting is essentiual and must be circulated in advance of a meeting to all attending so that they have sufficient and to enable them to make valuable contributions. All meetings also should to have a start and an end time. It is important to respect and honor other people’s time and they will respect you for it.
- Deliverables: If the objectives of the meeting have not been clearly defined as a set of clear deliverables, then your meeting is not worth having. If you wish to accomplish something in the meeting and you are vague or ambiguous about it or it has not been defined to begin with then you will likely not achieve anything. Set individual and group expectations well before the meeting. Remember, the effectiveness of any meeting is a direct correlation to the amount of work done before the meeting.
- The Mindset: Meetings go better if they are enjoyable… this is not about ice-breaking exercises or creating crazy themes, but about creating a relaxed, unintimidating, and professional atmosphere for the meetings. Often productive meeting are fun and because of the atmosphere this created the meetings actually accomplish something. Leave the political correctness outside the door. Be genuine and authentic. Meetings are not about treading gently or coddling people. Meetings should be challenging, welcome differencing or dissenting ideas and opinions, and encourage candid discussion. If those attending know that they are respected, their opinions valued and will not be embarrassed or talked down at, they will come prepared to deliver.
- Attendees: Inviting too may people to a meeting and it becomes a circus and not a productive meeting. Other than a shareholder meeting, AGMs, Christmas Party, or special event, meetings should be limited to 10 or less participants. Not everyone should attend meetings, and often too many receive invites to meetings for no other reason than to appease their delicate egos. If a person has nothing to contribute, then it makes no sense to invite them to a meeting and don’t hold a meeting without the key contributors being there, otherwise reschedule for a time they are able to attend. If you are going to a meeting but have not prepared to make a contribution then you need to ask yourself why you are attending?
- The Leadership: Someone need to be in charge of the meeting and meetings must have a chair who is responsible for ensuring the meeting stays on the point, remains on schedule and achieves the meeting objectives. Bad meetings are a result of bad leadership.
- Focus: Mobile phones, computers, and other PDA’s must to be turned-off. To accomplish anything participants need to give 100% focused attention to the item at hand. If the meeting is important enough for you to attend, then it demands the participant’s full attention.
- Meeting Location: Schedule your meeting at a place that is most convenient for the participants. Make sure it is understood that meetings are not to be interrupted unless it is an emergency (an “emergency” needs to be defined as both urgent and important).
- Assess and Evaluate: The meeting chair is wise to conduct a critical after meeting analyses to determine what went well, what went wrong, were the right people in attendance, were the people prepared, were the deliverables met, etc. The bottom line is that companies that have great meetings have great meetings for a reason…they work on it.
Time is in your hands; if you choose to spend it at meetings, make sure you spend it wisely….
Please share your observations and thoughts in the comments below. Bonus points for those willing to share their “worst meeting ever” story…