A Little Magic For Waste Of Time Meetings

Meetings are where minutes are kept and hours are lost. They get such a bad rap! What criteria should we use to decide to attend or conduct any meeting? It seems ½ the meetings we take via conference call, we are trying to do email at the same time, so we actually accomplish very little on email or on the call. In a live meeting it is hard to do anything but be in the meeting.

So, here are a few critical steps to make our meetings more valuable, so that people actually want to attend them. It’s easy! Simply take all the things we hate about meetings and STOP doing them! This makes the meeting so much better.

1. Make the meeting one where you will learn. How often do we walk away from meetings having learned nothing? I am not talking about gossip to spread around the office, rather a real chance to learn and better ourselves.

  • Did I gain an interesting perspective?
  • Will I move toward towards solving a critical problem?
  • Did I add any value to the outcome?
  • Is the team stronger or organization better for us having had this meeting?
  • Did I establish new relationships for future success?
  • Will I be able to teach someone something?

If it’s no, and it’s just a meeting “I have to attend” and we can’t answer yes to any of the above questions, then please excuse yourself from the meeting. And you say” My boss makes me be there” – if this is the case, then listen to teammates and see if they agree, help the boss make the meeting better, and look what value is being achieved. Spend more time contributing and less time  complaining.

2. Make sure the meeting absolutely ends on time. I was asked to be on a board for a non-profit group. We always had several members no-show. After 6 months, they asked me if I would rejoin the board, and I said, “Only if I can run the meetings.” I could not sit through another 1 hour meeting that lasted 2.5 hours. I ran all of the future meetings. At future meetings I shared with everyone we only had only 1 hour, and we would absolutely end in one hour – were they ok with that? They agreed. Sure enough, with 5 priorities we were only on priority #3 as someone got done speaking at the 1 hour mark. I politely and clearly adjoined the meeting, and said we’d conclude the remaining priorities next month. We all left the room. Very soon, I had all members attending and we always ended on time.

3. Have clear meeting norms of conduct. You can’t get Mr. Talkative to stop talking or get others to speak up? I use a flipchart to write letters along the left side of the paper, spelling S-P-E-R-O down the page. We then go around the room and agree what each word might stand for as a norm. The “S” might be Sensitive, as in “sensitive to others.” The “P” might be Participate and Polite. “E” might be for Engaged. “R” might be for Respect. “O” could be for Openness. We collect words that become ‘meeting norms.’  We then hold ourselves and others accountable not to be disruptive, silent or disengaging during our meeting. It helps to create the norms and appropriate actions versus derailing a meeting with questionable behavior.

4. Revisit priorities for the block of time. Once we knew we only had 1 hour, we would be sure to identify what the critical issues were to be “learned or decided” in our hour timeframe. We got much better at not having everyone talk endlessly or having one conversation between just two people be our whole meeting.

5. Create a parking lot. If an issue arises that is only critical for 2-3 people in a room of 8 others, decide if they can take it off-line or simply write the issue on a whiteboard in the room and come back to it, to get everyone else to give input. It is important to stay on track, otherwise our meetings become frustrating and pointless.

6. Get others involved. As a leader of meetings, I believe I should keep the environment safe and capable of achieving our goals. I have other people involved so it’s our meeting not mine. I have a scribe, a timekeeper, an agenda developer, and a person responsible for summarizing commitments made by everyone during the meeting. Meeting leaders need to keep energy and safety in-line for meeting the goals of the session.

7. Scrap the meeting. I was coaching a senior leader in a new company recently and she told me how much she hated meetings. And she said, “I’m talking about my meetings  – the ones I run and make others come to. I hate them and so do my people.” She soon started asking for agenda items from her team, and if she didn’t receive any, she would cancel the meeting. People got an hour back and were thrilled. 

Don’t Forget Objectives, Agenda, and Next Steps!


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