“A voice says, ‘If I can raise a minor matter, Mr. Chairman …’ and with a horrible wooden feeling in your stomach you know, now, that the evening will go on for twice as long, with much referring back to the minutes of earlier meetings.” – Terry Pratchett, The Truth
Most of us have endured (or worse, led) meandering company meetings. We can identify the person most likely to raise a tangential point that everyone else is too polite not to dismiss outright, or the person who enjoys playing “Devil’s advocate” to prove how smart he is, or the completely disengaged person prone to doodling or texting her way through the ordeal.
What’s our own culpability for meetings gone stale? More importantly, how can we break out of our preferred roles and pull staff meetings out of their predictable rut? A typical business meeting lasts one hour. Forget the corporate cost of an unproductive meeting (every participant’s hourly salary plus 30% benefit costs); instead, consider the personal cost to you of wasting another hour of your life that you can never get back.
Today, we might agree to change the course of future meetings by trying these five simple suggestions to transform time with others into an opportunity rather than an obligation.
First: Set an agenda. Define the meeting’s purpose in one actionable sentence: “Establish timetable to launch Product D.” That’s your agenda. Meetings are useful for identifying specific goals (a goal is an action that is attainable, measurable and relevant) and/or to assign tasks.
Second: Share facts in advance of a meeting. Forgo meetings intended only to “get together to talk” or to share information or recap the last meeting; instead, retrain yourself or others to broadcast an informative memo or whitepaper.
Third: Know your role. For larger groups, a timekeeper makes sure the meeting ends at the appointed time; a gatekeeper keeps participants focused on the agenda item or topic; a recorder writes down all agreed-upon decisions, assigned tasks and deadlines; and a facilitator lists new ideas/brainstorming ideas on a flip chart (or laptop or tablet) and makes sure everyone has a chance to contribute. Everyone around the table is a participant – or else they are honestly expendable, for purposes of the meeting.
Hint: As soon as you realize you have nothing to contribute or to learn, or no probable subsequent responsibilities for the project at hand, attempt to gracefully bow out. Tick tock, tick tock. You are losing more minutes of your life, and the company is wasting money.
Fourth: Establish accountability. Meeting time is most productive when used to move a project or the company ahead. Who is going to do what, by when? A worthwhile meeting does not conclude with “it was decided to move ahead with sustainability plans.” It ends with “Joe will meet with the janitor to determine best practices for recycling and report back before the next meeting; Jan will contact the building owner to request lighting changes this month,” etc.
Fifth: Concise follow-up. After the meeting ends (well in advance of the next meeting, if another one is scheduled), the recorder concisely recaps results in terms of actions taken or tasked. A recap of the discussion is really unnecessary. This summary is then sent to all appropriate parties so participants don’t have to relive the meeting while retelling it to others who missed it, or to “fill in” others who were not invited to the meeting.
Now that we’ve saved you hours of pointless meetings, I hope you’ll spend a little time with me again next week, when we’ll tackle how to better manage your boss.