Until recently, I had a regular love/hate relationship with meetings.
I love conversations. And meeting people. And hearing their thoughts and ideas. Above all I love interacting and collaborating with people who are very different to me. Because I always come away feeling that what happened in the room resulted in something far stronger and more exciting than I could have imagined, or achieved, just on my own.
But meetings....Urgh. Lots of meetings aren't like that.
Not all meetings can be exhilarating of course. Some have to happen whether we like it or not.
It's the ones that are all about egos, dictatorship, micro-management, bureaucracy, show-boating and those which inefficiently go on forever without real conclusion, they're the ones I object to.
Keeping those kinds of meeting to the bare minimum is one of my goals in life. As Edison said so well: 'time is really the only capital that any human being has and the thing that he can least afford to waste or lose.'
Sound familiar? Edison knew what he was talking about. There have been moments in meetings when I have literally felt my brain cells ageing and the onset of deeper wrinkles. Have you ever experienced that point in a seriously dreadful meeting when the more you start to wonder what everyone would do if you suddenly stood on your chair and screamed, the greater and stronger the urge you have to just do it? I confess to having experienced it countless times in the past.
Bad meetings speak volumes about the culture of a business and often, the lack of candour and comfort with each other of those present.
So if you're like me when it comes to how you feel about meetings, how do you strike the right balance? And what do you do about those meetings that you just don't have any control over?
The linked article, 'How to run a terrible meeting', is an amusing but instructive read.
Meanwhile, my 9 top tips to better meetings are these below. Whether you're the organiser or an attendee, everyone can practise these steps to fairly optimise the time of all those invited and equally importantly, ensure really productive outcomes.
1. Allocate the minimum time: be efficient and respectful of everyone's time. Right at the outset, consider whether a meeting is really necessary at all. And if it is, how soon can it realistically take place? Delay to productivity is an avoidable consequence of unnecessary meetings
2. Be punctual & prepared: show up on time and prepared to contribute. Don't 'wing it'. Agenda's and/or clearly stated objectives, circulated in advance and reiterated at the start of any meeting, help to create the right appreciation of why the meeting matters and who is accountable for what
3. Invite those who genuinely need to be there: minutes can always be viewed by others. Subsequent activities and conversations may well be needed, instigated or lead by those present at this meeting. Those discussions often don't need to happen instantly or in committee right now
4. Stay on point: keep discussions on track. Have a clear agenda, that's circulated in advance so attendees turn up knowing what's on the table. Digressions should be considerately acknowledged but parked, either for AOB, or for separate discussion that can then later be reported back
6. Foster collegiate, consultative and open dialogue: one person might have an ultimate casting vote, but dictatorships don't drive growth, innovation or cultural progress. Ensure that the true value of participation is realised from everyone attending. That doesn't mean that intensive debate around every possible detail of agenda items should be undertaken until hours have passed and everyone is exhausted, but if value isn't forthcoming from every invitee, think hard about whether they should be there
7. Include the right inputs at the right time: avoid anecdotes, assumptions and speculation. Never accept deflection tactics by attendees. Base discussions as far as possible on real data and accurate analyses from reliable sources. If the data aren't available, don't discuss the relevant item until they are; and set clear action points and deadlines around getting them so that time isn't lost. Hold relevant attendees accountable for ensuring their production
8. Ensure efficient conclusions: meetings should conclude with clear action points and/or agreement on core objectives. Those who aren't clear on them should feel sufficiently comfortable to request confirmation and they must be provided with it
9. Stop it before it trends: every now and then, in spite of best intentions and following a practice that embodies the steps above, a bad meeting will occur. Monitor what works and where this one de-railed. Properly address the causes to prevent the likelihood of a repeat.
To err is of course human and we are none of us perfect. But those who deserve to lead and command the respect of their fellow colleagues, know the true value of the time contributed by all those around the meeting room table, the importance of collaboration and consultation, and the benefits of ensuring that outcomes are optimal because the approach to designing and achieving them was well-informed and efficient.
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Meetings are the workplace punching bag. We take shots at them when we’re frustrated by the prismatic prison that is our busy calendar (I prefer to stamp meetings with fun and festive hues like “Time Suck” blue and “Where Did It All Go Wrong” red).More seriously, meetings are the small tax we pay for not being psychic.We could use fewer of them, but we’ll never be rid of them. Unless humanity decides the whole “hivemind” thing sounds pretty good after all, we’ll always need to convene in order to communicate, collaborate, brainstorm, present, debate, and collectively build on our ideas. Meetings are good for that, so it’s best we make the most of them.