“Oh, no. Not another meeting! How do they expect me to get any work done if I’m always in a meeting?”
How many times has that thought crossed your mind in the last month? This week? So far today?
A few years ago, these numbers from the Wharton Centre for Applied Research appeared in the Wall Street Journal:
- The average CEO or Deputy Minister spends about 17 hours each week in meetings.
- Senior Executives spend an average of 23 hours a week in meetings.
- Middle managers often spend 11 or more hours a week in meetings.
- Senior and middle managers said that only 56% of meetings they attended were productive.
With a changing world and a move towards more collaborative decision-making, people need to spend more time in dialogue with others, sharing ideas, solving problems, making decisions and planning for action. This means that people are spending more time in meetings than ever before. But if you ask them about those meetings – how effective and efficient they are – they’ll probably complain about the time wasted:
- when meetings don’t start or end on time
- bringing latecomers up-to-date
- when the purpose of the meeting isn’t clear
- when there’s no agenda or (worse) when people have hidden agendas
- when people come unprepared
- when critical people don’t show up or cancel at the last minute
- when one or two individuals dominate the discussions
- when discussions go off-topic
Do you see yourself or your organization in any of those bad practices?
1. Start with the end in mind! What is the purpose of the meeting? Is it to share information? Update on a project? Discuss a problem? Announce a major change? Make a decision? Articulate the purpose.
2. Do you need to meet? Too often, formal meetings are organized when an email, a phone call, or even a five-minute stand up discussion would have met the need. Before scheduling a meeting, ask yourself if there is a better way to satisfy all or part of the need. Face-to-face meetings are valuable, but they consume much time and money. Spend your face-time carefully.
3. If you must meet in person, create a realistic agenda. Meeting planners are often too optimistic. They create densely packed agendas that leave no wiggle room for unforeseen discussions or speakers who go long.
Start with your major blocks of time and then, as Diane says, “do the math.” In a discussion, a participant might easily speak for one to four minutes. If you expect a healthy discussion and you have ten people, do the math: ten people times four minutes gives you 40 minutes. For a quick vote you might only need 10 to 15 minutes. For an important issue, give people time to discuss and explore. People who don’t feel they’ve been heard may leave your meeting frustrated and skeptical about the entire process. If you don’t have time for a thorough discussion with the full group, consider alternatives like smaller breakout discussions.
Design a realistic agenda that will give you the time to deal with the important issues. Set yourself up to succeed.
4. Invite the right people. Your participants are the meeting. You don’t just want to fill the seats. You want a room full of engaged people. You will need people who can address issues, answer questions and make decisions. Look at the agenda and decide if you need all of those people in the room for the duration. Would it make more sense to have some people attend just part of the meeting, to participate remotely, or to be on call? If they see that you take their time seriously, they’ll probably be more engaged and appreciative.
Meetings are rarely the beginning or the end of a process. They’re essential links between the past that brought these people together and the future they want to create. The stakes are high. Think of the cost to your organization of bringing all of those people together. Think of the value of their time. Think of the end result.
Instead of dwelling on meeting failures, think about what success – a meeting that gets the job done – can look like, and what it could mean. For you. For your clients. For your community.
If you would like to receive more practical tips and strategies to achieve results, register for one of Diane’s upcoming Effective Meeting Strategies workshops.
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