Company Meetings: Productive or Waste of Time?
Does it ever seem like meetings take on a life of their own? Initially conceived to solve problems and enhance communication, they take on a dark side and leave participants frustrated at wasting time in a conference room when their own mountain of workis beckoning. When meetings feel like a waste of time, or it feels like they’re taking place only out of habit, there’s a problem.
Generally, the smaller the company, the fewer meetings are conducted. Is it because small business owners generally do not believe that meetings are productive or advance progress? Or is it simply a matter of easier communication when there are fewer people involved? Small companies are often governed by a single owner rather than a team, so the owner may feel less dependent on input from the troops, and they may rely on getting input in a less formal setting. However, some employees may not provide input until they are formally invited to offer it–perhaps in the context of a meeting.
Meetings Can Be Useful and Productive
Are you getting what you need from your meetings? Meetings can be powerful and effective, when handled correctly. That includes viewing meetings as a dialogue. Meetings are a valuable opportunity to get feedback from participants, so refrain from making the bulk of meetings exclusively about telling employees what they should, shouldn’t or didn’t do. Inviting them to share their opinions both keeps them engaged and helps you gather useful information.
Articulate and Stick to a Clear Agenda
Identify the purpose of the meeting and stay focused on it. Without a defined purpose or agenda, a meeting can easily drone on too long. At Facebook, they start by articulating: are we here to have a discussion or make a decision? Clarify the matter you are there to resolve and the goal, and keep everyone’s attention on it throughout the meeting. Have a mechanism to acknowledge, record and store any topics that don’t support the goal: a common technique is placing them in a white-board “parking lot” for later consideration.
Intel is known for a disciplined, effective meeting culture. Posted in all conference rooms is a short series of questions: Do you know the purpose of this meeting? Do you have an agenda? Do you know your role? Do you follow the rules for good minutes?
Distribute an agenda ahead of time, so participants can arrive informed and ready to hit the ground running. Intel relies on a universal agenda template which puts everyone on the same page, listing the key topics, who will lead which parts of the discussion, time allotted for each, expected outcomes, and so on. The company consciously distinguishes among four decision-making strategies: authoritative (the leader takes full responsibility); consultative (the leader weighs group input, then makes a decision); voting; and consensus. This sets appropriate expectations and helps focus the conversation.
Structure Meetings Effectively
Jessica Pryce-Jones, co-CEO of iOpener Institute and co-author of “Running Great Meetings & Workshops For Dummies” advises addressing the “meat” of the meeting in the middle, after all participants have settled in but before distraction hits.
Pryce-Jones also advocates that meeting moderators enlist a support person to take responsibility for little things like audio-visual aids and handouts. This valued assistant can help track time and bring the conversation back on track as needed. Additionally, the moderator should engage the most knowledgeable party to lead various parts of the meeting. A variety of presenters keeps attention engaged and energy up, while giving the moderator time to regroup.
Respect Attendee’s Time
Evaluate the attention in the room to determine whether the right people are there. If only a few people are fully engaged, the material probably isn’t relevant to everyone. Rather than waste the time of the distracted parties, tighten up the guest list so they’re not compelled to attend.
When meetings are scheduled regularly, they can become repetitive, boring and unproductive. Shake things up by taking them outside or to a nearby cafe, or bring in speakers or activities that boost the energy.
Try cutting the length of your meetings in half, to force a laser focus among attendees. Some managers prefer standing meetings for this reason, especially when taking notes isn’t part of the plan.
Tracking costs helps, too: calculate what each participant makes per hour and add it up. The total may be sobering and motivating.
Meetings Should Be a Positive Experience
According to William Daniels, senior consultant at American Consulting & Training of Mill Valley, California, bad meetings make bad companies. “Meetings matter because that’s where an organization’s culture perpetuates itself. Bad meetings are a source of negative messages about our company and ourselves.”
When people say to themselves, “thank goodness the meeting’s over, I can get back to work now,” there’s a problem. Workers should leave feeling appreciative that a problem is being solved or something useful and important has been communicated, and it’s up to management to make that happen.