I’ve said it many times: meetings are the very heart of the future of work. Meetings are the way knowledge workers learn, communicate, problem-solve, create, share ideas, influence others, and inspire. They are the way work gets done in a world overwhelmed with information. We sort out the wheat from the chaff, we develop new ideas, and we build consensus in meetings.
But how effective are the meetings you participate in, or lead? Almost everyone I talk to complains about the meetings they attend. Over and over I hear terms like “boring,” “a waste of time,” “horrible,” and “never get anything done.”
If that’s what you are hearing or feeling about the meetings you attend and/or lead, what are you doing about it?
The members of one project team in a high-tech company recently chose to act on their overall frustration with their weekly project status meetings. The first thing they did was to admit openly that their meetings were both inefficient and ineffective. Once that was done they developed a new set of “rules” for their meetings, and they quickly experienced an order-of-magnitude improvement in both the quality of those meetings and their own morale and productivity.
It’s not always that easy, but admitting that they were personally accountable for those bad meetings was the first step on the road to recovery. The second step was developing a new set of guiding principles for their meetings. And the third step was putting those new principles into practice. In their case the new rules included shorter meetings, a mandate to publish an agenda in advance every week, and a commitment to stick to the published agenda during the actual meetings.
While each situation is unique, there are four questions I ask of every team I work with:
- Do your meetings achieve their primary purpose? How close do you typically come to resolving the issues that led to the meeting in the first place? Do you achieve clarity about the decision, or the problems that you are attempting to resolve? Do meeting participants understand what will happen next as a result of the meeting; and – most importantly – does everyone understand who will do what by when? In other words, is there clear accountability for carrying out the actions that were agreed on?
- Are your meetings efficient? Is the time well spent? Do your meetings include only the people who need to be part of the decision, or will be affected by it? Did the meeting last only as long as was needed? Could the same outcome be achieved through a memo or an online status report?
- Do your meetings enhance the participants’ capability for future actions? Every meeting is a step on a journey towards enhanced team maturity, or capability. Even if you weren’t able to resolve a pressing problem, if you made progress and improved the working relationships among the participants, the meeting was at least a partial success.
- How do the participants feel about the meeting? Admittedly, this is a purely subjective dimension, but the collective wisdom of the meeting participants is a powerful indicator of how effective the meeting experience was for them.
The most important step you can take towards making your meetings both productive and popular is simply to face up to the reality of how well they are working today. Apply these four questions to your own meetings, and be honest with your answers.
The benefits of making all your meetings matter are enormous. Just consider this hypothetical situation: if a team of ten professionals meets for a total of just two hours a week that easily can add up to an annual salary cost of $65,000 or more, not even counting the time consumed in preparing for the meetings, or the effort to document and report on the meeting outcomes.
And that’s only a superficial cost analysis; add to that the value of improving your meeting outcomes, freeing staff up to get other important work done, and enhancing everyone’s engagement and morale, and you can’t afford not to pay attention to improving your meetings!
Contact me today for a free 30-minute strategic conversation about how you can make all your meetings and other corporate conversations both productive and popular. Please download this brief overview of my new service offering for making meetings matter to explore what’s possible.