Ask anyone in management about how much they love meetings, and I can guarantee you will hear a loud groan. Chief complaints are that there are too many, they waste time, and little gets accomplished during these. A top upset is when meetings rehash the same agenda items without any move forward.
How can you minimize the time spent on your meetings, maximize the focus and outcomes, and get back to work quickly?
Here are 5 ways you can make sure your meetings are effective, stay on track, and keep the organization moving forward:
1. Prepare your attendees for the meeting.
Make sure your meeting has a clear purpose, an agenda, and any background information to brief people. Send this out ahead of time and alert attendees that they need to review the info before the meeting is held. This one move can eliminate a lot of time in your meeting wasted on bringing people up to speed and risking conversations around things that have already been decided.
2. Clarify what you want from your attendees.
Is this meeting informational, for consideration, or for action?
a. If the meeting is for information only, make it clear that you are sharing for awareness, and decide during your meeting what information from your time together needs to be shared with the larger employee base or select management.
b. If the meeting is for consideration, make sure you define what is up for consideration and what outcomes you would like for the meeting. This kind of meeting is most likely to be typed as a time-waster unless you facilitate for the outcomes you request, identify next steps with deadlines, and share this with all involved to pull things forward. It is important especially for this type of meeting that you as leader facilitate and allow other team members to speak and weigh in. Your job is to conduct the meeting and keep it on track to desired outcomes – not to dictate opinion by reason of your position.
c. If the meeting is for action, be sure that you have identified and have present all decision-makers who need to be in the room. This avoids having to chase down and reintegrate any new views or opinions coming from those who were absent (and which can often cause another new meeting on the same subject, rehashing the same agenda). As with the meeting for consideration, articulate clearly the decisions that were made, the actions you have determined, who will follow up on each, and a deadline for reporting back.
3. Go lean on your attendee list.
Do you have tourists in your meetings? People who have climbed “on the bus” by virtue of association, but who really don’t need to be in there? Review your agenda carefully and decide who from your regular attendee list no longer needs to be involved. This can be touchy as you may send the wrong message by simply disinviting them. Be sure to explain why – that the agenda isn’t something to which they need to devote time, and you are revamping in order to minimize meetings and time spent on these so that they can do the work at hand.
4. Avoid highjacking.
Three major ways this can happen to your meeting are when Parkinson’s Law of Triviality is activated, when side-barring occurs, and if you have a personality who tends grandstand or hold court.
a. Parkinson’s Law of Triviality is where people spend a relatively large amount of time, energy, and focus dealing with relatively minor issues. How does this work in a meeting? People will stay with trivia inside of a more major decision because they are more comfortable with that. They may not understand the larger issue at hand, or they may not be fully engaged with it. When this happens, and they begin to “major in minors,” the more important issue being neglected, and a whole team diverted to a side conversation. If you notice this happening, be quick to call people back to the larger focus at hand.
b. Stopping your own meeting to side-bar means that the rest of your team has to wait while you do take care of things that should be cared for in a 1:1 meeting or other forum. It sends a poor message about your own leadership abilities and causes people to lose their focus and engagement during your time together. That’s a hard thing to recapture – so don’t do it!
c. Do you have a grandstander? A personality who considers meetings the place where they can make sure everyone else is impressed with their opinion? This person tends to takes up all the air in the room so that others aren’t able or willing to participate, or interrupts loudly to show expertise. If so, you need to have a critical conversation with this person to help them to understand the behavior you are noticing, how it is adversely impacting the team, and the desired behaviors you want to see instead.
5. Recap of your meeting.
Send out a recap of your meeting notes with appropriate action steps, designated people in charge of them, and deadlines. These notes should be taken by someone other than you to allow you to focus on leading and facilitating. If you have an assistant, this is optimal. If you have a leaner team in attendance for this one, ask one of your members to capture what you want on the agenda so that you can have your assistant type these up later for distribution.
What are your pet-peeve time-wasters in meetings? I’d love to hear more about it.
For more about making your meetings more effective to promote better decisions and outcomes, see McKinsey’s May 2019 article “Want a Better Decision? Plan a Better Meeting” by Aaron De Smet, Gregor Jost, and Leigh Weiss.
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Patti Cotton helps executives optimize their effectiveness in leading self, others, and the enterprise. Her areas of focus include confidence, leadership style, executive presence, effective communication, succession planning, and masterful execution. With over 25 years of leadership experience, both stateside and abroad, Patti works with individuals, teams, and organizations across industries, providing executive consulting, leadership development, succession planning, change management, and conflict resolution. She is also an experienced Fortune 500 speaker. For more information on how Patti Cotton can help you and your organization, click here.