All in favor of canceling today's meeting, signify by saying: "Aye!"
Wasteful meetings happen more than they should in business and within organizations. As Capt. James T. Kirk in Star Trek once said:
"A meeting is an event at which minutes are kept and hours are lost."
Harvard University once studied weekly executive staff meeting in one large business, and discovered a stunning impact on valuable human resources. The company spent 300,000 hours each year to prepare reports, research agendas and participate in the weekly executive staff meeting.
Are meetings necessary and helpful? Of course. Great businesses and organizations must communicate internally in order to be successful. Like any other important operational process, though, meetings should be purposeful, planned and proficient.
If you are charged with leading meetings, here are a few tips on conducting purposeful ones.
Answer ‘Why?’, ‘Who?’ before scheduling the meeting. Every meeting should have a specific purpose and an expected outcome. You also should have the right people at the table - not spectators. If you can't address the "why" and "who", consider sending email updates.
Plan the agenda accordingly. Require participants to prepare for their meeting. Provide data or proposals 48 hours in advance of the meeting. If your agenda only reads "Old Business" and "New Business", cancel the meeting. Also, place the most important objective or action item at the beginning. Don't call a meeting about an important decision, and leave 10 minutes at the end to consider it.
Set and follow ground rules. Each participant should understand (and be reminded) that confidentiality is absolute, respect is mandatory, opinions are valued and discussions should be focused.
Remember: Time is money. A survey by Forbes asked people their greatest pet peeve about meetings. "Starting on time" stood atop the list. You should convene at the posted time, regardless of who is late. Meetings should conclude within an hour - otherwise, it's a retreat. If you believe long meetings are productive to the bottom line - look around the table. Ask yourself how much per hour in salaries alone are being consumed in the long meeting. It's more expensive than you ever imagined.
Herd the process, progress. Steer the group out of the weeds of minutia. Move the group along when people start repeating themselves. Remove the "stage" from the "actors". (Some people like to talk whether or not they have something profound to share.) If someone shares an idea unrelated to the meeting, create an "Idea Parking Lot" for future agendas. Also, discourage participants from doing side work (checking or writing emails on their devices) during the meetings.
Press for action. Determine deliverables for participants, and hold them accountable. Set deadlines - even if they seem arbitrary.
Keep records. Provide summary notes from the meeting within 24 hours. Focus on key points and deliverables. Don't forget to include mention of the parking lot items. Resend these summary notes with the agenda for the next meeting.
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Add your leadership sauce. Successful meetings require strong leadership and people skills. You can persuasively move along the process by:
- Encouraging participants to follow up with questions or concerns via email or personal meetings. Some people don't like to speak up in front of others; yet they have great ideas or comments on proposals.
- Listen, listen, listen. Meetings should not be dominated by any one individual, especially the leader.
- Discourage side discussions. They can be disruptive, and can quickly veer the agenda off course.
- Don’t agree to anything on first pass. Acknowledge the idea and contemplate it when you have more time and research. Sometimes, an idea sounds great in the meeting - but doesn't stand the test of operational or market realities.
- Stand up for brevity. Want to make your meeting a short one? Conduct it with everyone standing. Take away the comfortable conference room chairs, and discussions will be brief and solutions decided more quickly.
- Keep anything that's not important out of the meeting room. This could be people (spectators), food, pets, previous meeting notes on a dry erase board. You want everyone's undivided attention.
Does anyone want to second these motions?
Jeff Owen is president of J Owen Media, a communications consulting company.
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