Make Meetings Mean Something Again

“Hey, what’s your schedule look like for a quick meeting today?”

I don’t like receiving emails or phone calls like this. It makes me dread the upcoming meeting. I think we can all agree that it only takes one bad meeting to make you feel that every meeting is going to be a horrible, awful, disastrous waste of time. Pick a scenario: meetings that have no purpose, no agenda, missing participants, not the right participants, too many participants, _________ (fill in the blank).

What can you do to make meetings more effective and break the bad meeting cycle?

Here are some ways you can inject life and meaning back into your meetings.

Length – Do you really need an hour meeting? Take a page out of the Google play book, no meetings over 15 minutes. If you can’t figure it out in 15 minutes, too bad. Set up another meeting for 15 minutes to figure it out. This time limit policy also ensures that the meeting requestor does all of the pre-work. Maybe a 15 minute policy won’t work for your company culture. Would a 30-minute time limit work? If the meeting topic is a training or policy update, could a memo be used instead of a meeting?

Cost – How much does an unproductive meting cost? Have your employees put their pencils to the paper to justify the meeting before they book the meeting.  First, determine who will be in the meeting. Next, determine an average salary amount for the participants. Finally, multiply that by the number of minutes or hours that meeting is expected to run. Is the outcome of the meeting worth that dollar amount?  No? Then you don’t need a meeting or you need fewer people at the meeting.

Facilitation – Does the person running the meeting know how to run a meeting? Have you trained your staff so they are equipped to handle people who veer the meeting off track? Has the facilitator done all the pre-work? The meeting is only going to be as good as the person running it.

Roles – Have you tried assigning roles to the attendees? If your participants are going to complain about the meeting, make them be part of the solution. One person keeps track of the minutes and takes notes. One person keeps track of the time giving everyone 15 minutes to speak. When the buzzer dings, move on the next person. Have one person be in charge of the agenda. If something gets brought up that’s important but not relevant to the meeting, have them put it in the parking lot.  Have someone be the keeper of the phones. Have a basket at the door and ask each member to place their phone in the basket. At the end of the meeting they can collect their phones, but only if they’ve been good! Also, rotate the roles so that the same people don’t get stuck doing the same jobs each time.

Location – What are three things you need to run an amazing meeting? Location, Location, Location!  Ok, well maybe that was a bad joke but location is important. Is it large enough? Quiet enough? Comfortable enough? Free from distractions? Check this out before the meeting. You don’t want to waste time finding another room or scrambling for chairs.

Equipment – Do you have copies of the agenda? Do you have your presentation ready? Do you have all the AV equipment you need? Do you know how to work the equipment? Do you know who to call in the event the equipment stops working? What’s your back up plan? Do you have enough chairs?

Now this is an interesting one. I’ve heard buzz about “Stand-Up” meetings. Remove the chairs from the meeting room, forcing people to stand. The thought is it keeps people on task as they get uncomfortable while standing. There are pros and cons to this. What if you need to write something down? What if an attendee has a health condition and shouldn’t be on his or her feet? However, for the right type of meeting, and for the right audience this could do the trick.

I think, like many things in life, we get complacent and just accept that it’s as good as it’s going to get. But who said meetings have to be long or boring or pointless? Meetings are beneficial if they are handled correctly.

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