Most people hate meetings. And for good reason.
We did them poorly prior to COVID and the explosion of remote work and virtual meetings.
Now we really suck at conducting meetings.
They’re inefficient, unproductive and eat up valuable time.
But they’re necessary.
You can’t have one-off conversations with each person in your organization or on your virtual team. You have to leverage your time. You have to be consistent with your message. Real-time information, quality decision-making and effective communication are all competitive advantages.
Meetings can define your organization’s culture. By definition, meetings require human interaction. Your corporate values are on full display. How you communicate. How you treat people. The behaviors you tolerate.
So, if they’re necessary and we don’t do them well, I hope you’re determined to get good at them.
I want to let you know what you’re up against, but also what you can do to rock your meetings.
Whether you’re the leader, a participant in someone else’s meeting, or part of a team of independent contributors, you need to take responsibility.
Be the champion of suck-less meetings.
Your ability to impact the quality of meetings can be a difference maker. For engagement. For efficiency. For relationships. For results
Mediocre Meetings Have Become the Norm
An Infocom study for Verizon Business suggests that the average manager is in sixty meetings per month. I think that may be light for the average manager in 2021, but let’s go with it. The same study concluded that fifty-percent of meeting time is wasted.
That’s the market. Something that is important to our teams and our organizations, and fifty-percent of the time we devote to it is wasted.
That should get your attention.
Here are some common characteristics of meetings that may give clues as to why so much meeting time is wasted. See how many of these describe the meetings you attend:
- Our meetings start late and / or end late
- We meet out of habit and people treat it like a painful obligation
- We rarely, if ever, have written agendas for our meetings
- People don’t come prepared and we’re regularly missing necessary information
- The people we need in the room aren’t always there
- We have people attend our meetings who don’t contribute
- Attendees can’t wait for the meeting to end, so they can “get back to work”
- Our meetings are painfully long
- We often meet and are uncertain about what we’re supposed to accomplish
- Conflict is uneven — some people get aggressive and others shrink back OR people avoid conflict at all costs
- Decisions get made in our meetings that don’t get communicated to people who are impacted by those decisions
- People are distracted by their phones or iPads
- I regularly get a sense of déjà vu — same meeting, different day. I hated it las time…and here we go again.
If any of these sound familiar, I want to help you dramatically improve your meetings.
14 Best Practices For Running Great Meetings
1. Meeting Ground Rules
Establish meeting ground rules about acceptable and unacceptable behavior in the meeting. Some appropriate rules to address include:
- Whether it is appropriate to be on your smart phone during the meeting. For any meeting under an hour, it should be allowed only on an exception basis.
- You need to create an atmosphere of trust and mutual respect
- Ensure that everyone participates and don’t let strong personalities (or people with the senior-most title) dominate.
- Set the expectation that people need to come prepared, including bringing any data or relevant information.
Note: You have to be prepared to enforce any ground rules you put in place, and more importantly, you have to role model them.
Every meeting should have a purpose, communicated to all attendees in advance. If any preparation is required, attendees should be notified well in advance. No one should ever walk into one of your meetings and say, “So, what are we meeting about today?” Once the meeting starts, you need to set the expectation for what you hope to accomplish. Clearly identify the yardstick by which everyone can measure the meeting’s success. It will drive the behavior in the meeting.
Every meeting should have a written agenda and it should be sent out at least 24 hours in advance. The more preparation required, the longer the lead time needed to distribute the agenda.
The majority of all business meetings take place with no pre-planned agenda. You want to be the exception. Create an agenda — and follow it.
Only invite people to the meeting who should participate in the discussion, or who may be directly impacted by the outcome of the meeting. Too many people are invited because their peers are attending, and we don’t want to hurt their feelings. You’ll free them up to be productive and they won’t be stealing the oxygen from the participants who need to be there.
5. Start and End Time
Be disciplined about starting and ending your meeting on time. If a meeting starts late, you disrespect the people who showed up on time. If the meeting carries on late, you are preventing people from meeting other commitments they have. Be conscious of Parkinson’s Law. A task expands or contracts according to the time allotted. Be serious about consistently moving the agenda forward. You can be both thorough and concise. They’re not mutually exclusive.
If the meeting lasts more than an hour, people will need a break. Their minds will wander anyway, so let them know that you will have scheduled breaks. Start back on time. Send the message that when they are in your meeting, you expect their focused attention.
7. Culture Reinforcement
Meetings are a great opportunity to reinforce core values or corporate behaviors. Whether you reference cultural values as a part of the decision-making process, or recognize someone who exemplified the behaviors, don’t waste an opportunity to strengthen your culture.
Allow disagreement or invite it if necessary; however, it is to be done respectfully. People can disagree with the idea, but don’t let it get personal. People have a harder time committing to a group decision if they haven’t felt “heard.” Sometimes, you may have to draw it out of them. You have to create an environment of trust and mutual respect. In that context, disagreement allows for diverse opinions and different perspectives. Ultimately that diversity creates the best ideas and allows for the best decisions.
Ensure that everyone is prepared to commit to the decisions and actions that come out of the meeting. There is no place for gossip or water cooler bitching about a decision.
10. Parking Lot
Topics may be raised that are not part of the meeting’s agenda. They may be important, but not part of the planned agenda. Record these on a separate “parking lot.” Before the meeting concludes, the attendees can determine if the items on the parking lot require follow-up discussion or a separate meeting to address. It will require discipline to ensure that the agenda won’t get hijacked by spontaneous or unplanned items.
11. One Size Does Not Fit All
If you know the behavioral styles and learning styles of your attendees, you can tailor the content of the meeting to fit their styles. However, most groups will include a mix of behavioral styles — direct and quick; the desire to talk and interact with people; safe, steady and time to process; a focus on details and facts. Some of these are mutually exclusive, so ensure that you have a mix. You may also have people with different learning styles: visual, auditory and kinesthetic. Try to have content that is diverse and has some appeal to all three.
12. Avoid Déjà vu
Once people have a sense of déjà vu in a meeting, they begin to check out mentally. If you normally lead the meeting, occasionally delegate the responsibility to someone else. When someone is forced to prepare, plan and facilitate a meeting, it can create a sense of investment and ownership. It engages others and helps in talent development.
As you go through an agenda, consider contrasts, or “pattern interrupters,” with light / dark; video / static images; spoken / written; sitting / standing. When people are subjected to something different, they re-engage. Keep them guessing.
13. Action Items
Document the action items. Who will do what, by when (day and time) as a result of the meeting discussion? Get people to verbally commit in front of the other participants. It creates greater accountability.
14. Communications Requirements
What needs to be communicated to whom after the meeting? Identify the person responsible, the method of communication, and ensure the date and time by when the communication will take place.
This is Your Responsibility…Starting Now
As a business community, the bar is pretty low for meetings. We hold them out of habit. People shake their heads when they think of the countless hours they’ve wasted in boring, unproductive meetings.
Let’s start with some facts. Meetings are necessary. Meetings offer an opportunity to enhance communications, drive culture and enhance alignment. Most people have had negative experiences with meetings that range from mildly ineffective, to colossal waste of time, to coma-inducing boredom.
But you can change that.
Effective meetings are worth the effort to plan. They’re worth the effort to experiment and occasionally get uncomfortable. That’s where growth occurs.
You don’t have to be CEO of your company to change that dynamic. Control what you can control. The meetings that you lead. The meetings that you attend as a participant.
If it is a meeting of equals, volunteer to take the lead.
Don’t look at other people who run meetings that suck the life out of the attendees and just try to be a little bit better than they are.
Dare to be great. Use the ideas I’ve shared to run productive meetings.
Meetings that people actually look forward to.
That cause tasks to be completed and goals to be reached.
Watch what happens. You may feel a collective sigh of relief from others in your meeting.
But you’re likely to feel something far more powerful. Positive energy. Momentum.
Your next meeting? Take the lead. Go make it happen.