6 Ways To Get Rid Of Bad Meetings Once & For All
January 21, 2016
President of Trailblaze, Inc.
Topicsdecision making, Leadership, Management, meetings, Problem Solving, productivity, results
Horrible meetings are a cliché of the business world, and with good reason. Many meetings are a waste of time and don’t accomplish anything.
The minutes creep along while the meeting leader fritters away everyone’s time, people have meaningless conversations that don’t solve problems, and everyone is frustrated that they could be doing something more productive with their time.
When you don’t run meetings well, not only do your results suffer, so does your credibility. Here are six tips to get rid of your bad meetings once and for all:
Don’t Waste My Time - One of the biggest reasons people hate meetings is that they abuse our most precious resource - our time.
Effective managers treat everyone’s time as a precious resource. However, when you carelessly let meetings run long, or start late, or have a meeting you never should have called, you disrespect your people.
My first rule of effective meetings is: only hold meetings when they are the most valuable use of all the attendees’ time.
That is a high bar to clear, I know. But really, if there were something a person could do that is more valuable, that contributes more directly to the team and to the results you’re trying to accomplish, why on Earth would you want them in your meeting where they are less productive?
So how do you make sure a meeting is a good use of time?
Clear Purpose: Relationships - Every meeting you hold should accomplish two goals that will sound familiar - build relationships and achieve results.
Teams require trust, and that is only built through time spent together, through solving problems, making decisions, and learning how everyone operates, sees the world, and shares information. In addition to the connections built through working together and solving problems, you can also include periodic conversations that build relationships, such as:
- Cultural conversations to problem solve or celebrate: For example, “What’s really getting in the way of people using our new system?” or, “What have you seen another member do well over the last month?”
- Elephant-in-the-room conversations: For example, “What are the conversations we’re not having that we should be having?”
- Mutual-help conversations: For example, “Let’s talk about how we’re working with other departments. What’s working well? Where do we have challenges?” Give people a chance to share and help one another.
These conversations can happen quickly and be a rich source of positive relationships as your people learn to trust each other and help one another.
Clear Purpose: Results - Your meetings should also move the mission of your group, team, and organization forward. In short, meetings should produce action. You got together to solve a problem, make a decision, or share information, and when the meeting ends, it’s time to do something. If your meetings don’t result in clear action, you’ve wasted your time.
Results start with a clear purpose. Are you there to make a decision? If so, is it a decision such as “where are we going” or a “how will we get there”? Keep these discussions separate from one another to ensure brevity and clarity.
Get The Right People In The Room - You want the smallest number of stakeholders that will allow you to make the best decision. Think about the number of people in your meeting as a continuum. On one end, you could hold the meeting with just yourself. It might look funny, but you could sit there by yourself, examine what you know, make a decision, and then share the decision with everyone else.
On the other end of the continuum, you could have everyone—every single person in the organization—attend a meeting. If you have a 50-person organization, all 50 of them would attend, and that would be unwieldy, but if you work in a 10,000-person organization, it would be impossible. So the question is, what is the smallest number of people that can attend but still provide you with good, diverse, and informed input from those who have a stake in the decision?
Where most leaders go wrong is that they invite too many people who share the same perspective and fail to invite key representatives with different vantage points who might help them make a better decision if they had input.In business, if two men agree, one of them is unnecessary.~ William Wrigley, Jr.
Remember, the goal of the meeting is to take action. When you take people away from their normal work, you do it so that all of you together can make a better decision than you would have done on your own. You’ll waste everyone’s time if you don’t invite the necessary people to the meeting.
Who Owns the Decision? - At the beginning of the meeting set expectations about how the decision will be made. Will you collect input then make the decision yourself? Will it be a team vote? Will you discuss until everyone can live with one idea? Establish who owns the decision and stick to that process. This eliminates guesswork, eliminates suspicion, and empowers people to make their best arguments.
- Include Accountability In Every Decision - Before the meeting concludes, spend five minutes with the group reviewing who will do what and how they will pass that completed step back to the team or the next person. The accountability and next step are baked into the decision. Everyone knows what he or she is accountable to do, the team knows if it’s been completed, and no one is left waiting around for information they need.
Remember, bad meetings are worse than no meetings at all. They’re a corrosive malaise that will eat away at your people until you have a group of zombies shuffling through their day without any meaning or purpose to their work. Use these six tips to hold meetings that are productive – and that people want to attend.
Let me add one more: acoustics. While the Eskimos may have 100 words for snow, we have only one word for deaf. Bad acoustics, or an over amped sound system will defeat the perfect message every time.
When I’m in a meeting with a microphone, the sound person becomes my best friend. Coffee, chocolate, whatever it takes!
You’re welcome – I’m glad it was helpful!
Hi, David – excellent post:)
I heartily endorse just about every single word of your thoughtful and valuable observations … I just wish we were not still having to concern ourselves with doing meetings better. It seems this has been a topic throughout my professional life … (Insert heavy sigh here).
One thing I might add, since I do not see it clearly stated anywhere is an assumption that flows throughout your thoughts:
When you take the time to strategically plan a meeting by identifying clearly who is gathering and what they are to do, you need to clearly communicate that IN ADVANCE so people can prepare.
I have heard the idea that a best meeting practice is to have a one-page agenda. I respectfully disagree a tad.
The agenda, published well in advance of the meeting date, should contain the information needed for the person to come ready to contribute. I think agendas should include:
1) Who is coming, and if necessary, their title and function.
2) The Bottom Line purpose of the meeting (as you say deciding to do something and deciding how to do that something are two very different discussions).
3) The specific expectations for participants regarding each activity of the meeting.
4) Any pertinent information that participants should have that is not within their ability to find out themselves. If you do expect people to come prepared, help them by telling them what you expect them to know and share.
I still attend meetings where an agenda with topics is handed out, often at the meeting, which makes it useful only as a Tick List to tell me how much more we have to go before I can leave.
When people know clearly beforehand what is to be done at the meeting, they have the opportunity to prepare to do exactly that. Otherwise, we are just guessing at what we are supposed to do.
Thanks for sparking my thinking this chilly morning:)
John, what great points!
Yes, I fully agree: if a meeting requires input and discussion (and most of them should), get everyone the information they need in order to make the most productive contribution – and expect everyone to honor each other’s time and commitments by coming prepared to engage well.
Regarding the ongoing quest to “do meetings better” – I look at it a bit like parenting. While we’ve been having and raising children forever, each generation must learn how to do it well. Mix in changing context (eg: touch screens) and we’ll never fully master the subject. Leadership and management skills are very similar – Only a very small minority of frontline and middle level managers who are given the skills they need to be effective.
Addressing that need is my passion – thank goodness for Lead Change Group and all the other folks out there like you who are helping people get the tools they need to be effective!
Great article by David Dye!
I have his book, The Seven Things Your Team Needs to Hear. It is one of the best business books EVER!
I read everything David writes. Always great content and helpful information.
Awesome article. Love the zombie analogy.
Mary, thank you for those kind words. Everything’s better with zombies!
At my organization, no matter how carefully you might curate and select a list of attendees, one or more of them will decide to forward the electronic invitation to one or more other people, just “FYI”. Those people then deem it important for them to be part of the discussion and decision and attend the meeting. The next thing you know, a 6 person meeting becomes a dozen or more.
Despite telling people not to do this many time, the practice continues.
Am I the only one to experience this phenomenon?
(Sorry, no zombies… :-))