How many meetings do you attend in an average week? Less than 8? More than 30? If each meeting takes an average of 45 minutes, that’s at least 6 hours (15%) of your week spent in a group around a table or on the phone. For some people, meetings can take up 50% or more of the working week.
Lots of business writers have recently complained that meetings are little more than time-draining, frustrating, political activities that people use to push agenda and avoid the actual work they’re meant to be doing. Few people are standing up for meetings and the value that they can unlock when planned and managed well.
Full disclosure: I love meetings when they work. A group of people sitting together having a robust conversation, discussing a way forward, and reaching agreement is a pretty great thing to be part of. For me, these kinds of meetings create a sense of collegiate momentum that is hard to beat or replicate. And when the actions agreed to are actually completed by a group of accountable and responsible people, real progress happens.
But I’ve also sat in plenty of pointless meetings. The regular-meeting-gone-stale and the let-me-show-you-how-much-I-know-meeting are particular dislikes of mine. I’ve also sat in plenty of meetings where great things are agreed to but never actually happen; a lack of follow-through and accountability are always disappointing and no doubt contribute to meetings’ bad reputation.
So, are meetings the powerful tools that many believe, or are they little more than painful experiences that we all must suffer through?
A necessary evil, or just necessary?
The method behind the business world’s love of meetings has its foundation in human behaviour and team theory. We humans are social creatures and interacting with others is part of our make-up. The same reasons that companies want you to be part of a team drive why they want you to meet.
Meetings can accomplish more than individuals can alone both in terms of task-driven outputs and interpersonal elements like trust, rapport, and understanding. When meetings work well, they can lead to better decisions, a shared understanding of perspectives on an issue, increased buy-in or support for initiatives, conflict discussion and resolution, and greater accountability to act on promises.
Tips for powerful meetings
What can we do to ensure that our meetings are powerful, rather than painful? Here are my top 3 tips.
Have a purpose
If you’re organising a meeting, make sure you know what it’s about. Clarify its purpose and consider your desired outcome. Communicate the meeting’s purpose in the invite.
If you’re attending a meeting organised by someone else, don’t be afraid to ask about its purpose and outcomes before you accept the invitation. If the organiser can’t tell you the meeting’s purpose, then it’s probably one you can skip!
Plan the meeting and actively run it
Meeting organisers take note: if you ask people to meet with you, you’re in control of the conversation. Before you meet, plan! This encompasses all aspects of the meeting, including:
- what topics you will discuss and how long it may take to discuss them,
- the anticipated response of attendees,
- the dynamic you want to create amongst the group, and
- how you want to end the meeting.
Once you’ve put the plan together, organisers must take charge and actively run the meeting to ensure that it delivers on the plan and achieves what you wanted.
Stay on track
While you might attend a meeting with nothing but good intentions, others may not. Be on the lookout for any games that other attendees may play to try and derail the meeting – be it power-play put-downs or condescending praise.* Others may engage in long-winded and irrelevant digressions, sucking all of the air out of your meeting and stifling its purpose. In both cases, organisers and attendees can help to keep the meeting on track by politely yet relentlessly emphasising the meeting’s agenda and purpose. You may sound like a broken record – maybe even a nag – but you will leave the meeting having achieved your purpose, instead of leaving as a polite colleague lacking a clear way forward.
You can learn these tips and many more for having great meetings in MCI Solution’s half-day seminar, Holding Productive Meetings.
* For more on this and the importance of context in translating meeting behaviour, read this article from Gretchen Reuben http://www.linkedin.com/pulse/article/20140903114939-6526187-beware-these-tricks-for-making-you-look-bad-in-meetings.