Banish Bad Meetings

Do you ever wish your day was filled with more meetings? I thought not. Almost everyone hates meetings. The general consensus is they are boring, ineffective, way too long, filled with tangents and random discussion, and waste a tremendous amount of time. And half the people in the meeting have no idea why they’re there.

I hate to tell you this but as a leader or manager…there’s a good chance you are the problem. Most people in leadership or management positions consider themselves good at leading meetings. They generally rate meetings they run as productive. Sometimes they rate them as extremely productive. Most attendees have a much lower assessment.

How could it be that you think a meeting went well and most everyone else thinks it was all of the above? In many cases, the higher one rises in the hierarchy the more confidence one gets in their ability to be great…at everything they do.

I have more bad news for you.  No one is great at everything. Actually, there are only a very few people that are great at more than 2 or 3 things. This means that for most of us who have quite a few disparate things to do in an average day, we’re not great at most of them. And so it’s entirely likely that you’re not great, perhaps not even good, at leading meetings.

What’s the solution? You can start by surveying everyone with this question: “What do you think about our meetings?” And if you’re feeling brave, ask meeting attendees directly what they think about your meeting leadership. If you have cultivated a culture where people feel free to give their honest opinion (see prior missive “Speak Up”), you’ll hear the truth. If the general consensus is that meetings–including those you lead–are dreaded rather than valued, take steps to improve them.

Here are a few ideas to get you started on turning dreaded meetings into valued meetings.

Remember that leading a meeting is not lecturing. It’s ensuring that everyone gets a chance to speak and share their ideas and opinions on the subject of the meeting. Ensuring everyone speaks means keeping the loudmouths from dominating and encouraging the quieter attendees to speak up. (And make sure you’re not one of the loudmouths. The best meeting leaders spend way more time listening than speaking.)

If there isn’t a clearly defined purpose and goal for the meeting, cancel it. If you don’t have a concrete reason for taking up a block of everyone’s valuable time, why are you doing it? Once your goal is clearly defined, keep everyone on target toward that goal. Tangents are the biggest reason for lousy meetings and wasted time.

Only invite those who really need to be in the meeting. If you notice anyone in your meeting falling asleep soon after the meeting begins, it’s a good sign they shouldn’t be there. No one wants to waste their precious time listening to a discussion that has no relevance for them.

And speaking of time, start exactly on time and end exactly at or before the scheduled ending time. When attendees know you will start on time and won’t rehash information for any latecomers, they’ll get there on time. Ending on time shows respect for each other and whatever the attendees were scheduled to do next, and also keeps the group focused on getting to the goal in the allotted time. No more tangents.

My favorite way to ensure short and focused meetings is to have standing meetings. When everyone shows up and notices there are no chairs, their feet immediately tell them to get this meeting completed as rapidly as possible. Forget the idle chit chat and let’s achieve the meeting’s goal and get out of here.

Lastly, conclude the discussion a couple of minutes before the scheduled end time and have every attendee rate the meeting from 1 to 10. They’re rating the quality of the meeting, not the result that occurred. 1 is worst meeting ever and 10 is best meeting ever. Have them give one short reason for why they rated it the way they did. You’ll notice that if you consistently do this, the meetings will get much better as you fix the reasons for low ratings and amplify the reasons for high ratings.

You could also just have someone else, someone known as a great meeting leader, run the meetings. If you’re a good manager you try and hire people smarter than you. People who can do things you can’t.  People who are really great at leading meetings for example.  As Steve Jobs observed, “It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and then tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.”

Banish the boring, ineffective meeting. Everyone will thank you and who knows, someone may even request that you hold more of them.




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