6 Big Gripes About Meetings (And How To Fix Them)
This article originally appeared on Forbes by Mark Murphy, Founder of Leadership IQ
When I ask leaders, “What’s the No. 1 thing that wastes your time and hinders your productivity?” the nearly universal answer is “meetings.” Whether it’s wasteful meetings that don’t resolve anything, meetings where everybody talks just to hear themselves speak or meetings where decisions never get made, meetings are often hated and typically wasteful. But the good news is that while meetings are generally reviled, they can also be fixed.
Here are six of the biggest gripes about meetings and some tips for turning bad meetings into highly effective and productive forums for generating better ideas and making smarter decisions.
Gripe No. 1: Meetings Last Too Long
Top of the list of gripes are meetings that seem to drag on forever. One issue is that electronic scheduling tools stubbornly assign 30- or 60-minute slots to meetings. And when the calendar says we’re going to spend 60 minutes in a meeting, the tendency is to stretch the meeting content to fill the allotted time. If you’re familiar with Bernoulli’s principle, meetings are like gas expanding to fill up a room. If you take 20 minutes of content and you stick it in a 60-minute time block, the content will expand to fill those 60 minutes.
A Statement of Achievement is a simple time management tool that basically says, “As a result this meeting we will have achieved, ________.” If you can’t fill in the blank, cancel the meeting. If you can fill in the blank, great, your meeting now has a clear objective. Let meeting attendees know that when you meet that objective, the meeting is over. A Statement of Achievement removes time as the measure of meeting completion and replaces it with achievement. When organizations implement a Statement of Achievement, meetings are more productive and get shortened, on average, by 17 minutes.
Gripe No. 2: People Who Come Late To Meetings
Latecomers are annoying and distracting, especially when a meeting has to backtrack in order to catch them up. One reason people don’t respect meeting start times is that they view meetings as free. The direct expense may not show up in a budget, but calculate the number of people in attendance, the average hourly wage and the length of the meeting, and it’s clear just how much a meeting costs.
The solution is to stop indulging latecomers. I’ve seen meetings where if there are eight people in the meeting, they’ll order seven donuts so the last person to show up doesn’t get a donut or a cup of coffee. One Board of Directors I know assigns buying dinner to the last person to show up for monthly board meetings. This group tends to meet at upscale restaurants making the penalty for being the last one there extra painful. I know of an organization that makes people sing when they walk in late to a meeting and many leaders lock the door when a meeting is scheduled to start. Whatever action you take, it has to be driven by the idea that meeting time is a valuable organizational resource and wasting it is simply not acceptable.
Gripe No. 3: Nothing Gets Accomplished In Meetings
In far too many meetings, the first 15, 20 or even 30 minutes are spent in idle chitchat, coffee klatches, housekeeping details or catching up from the last meeting. This goes on until someone looks at their watch and says, “Oh my gosh! Hey, we’ve only got about 20 minutes left in this meeting. Shouldn’t we talk about how to respond to this price war situation?”
The most valuable cognitive time you’ve got in a meeting is at the start when people’s brains are fresh and focused. Prioritize meetings to address the most important topic right away. Ensure that people to show up prepared to work by distributing an agenda prior to the meeting that addresses the following four points: the topic to be discussed, why this topic on the agenda, what we hope to accomplish by discussing this topic and what people should do to prepare for the meeting.
Gripe No. 4: I Don’t Belong In This Meeting
Most people, and especially the most productive people, don’t want to sit in a meeting where they’re not going to add value. Having a clearly written agenda allows you to go through the list of people you want to invite to a meeting and ask, “Does this person have some special insight or power or influence that this meeting needs to succeed?” If the answer is yes, next determine if making this person sit through the entire meeting is the best way to access their input. Some people may only need to attend a part of a meeting, or it might make better sense to access their value by scheduling a private meeting. A good rule is if your meeting includes more people than you can feed with two pizzas, the meeting is too big.
Gripe No. 5: No One Pays Attention In Meetings
Whether it’s people checking their devices while checking out of the conversation or losing the attention of people brought into the meeting just to listen (see gripe No. 4), looking around a meeting room and seeing people zoned out is pretty darn frustrating. Keep everyone on their toes by regularly asking key questions such as “How would you answer someone who asked about the other ideas we considered but didn’t choose?” or “Are there any circumstances under which our current decision won’t work?” or “If you could create a solution from scratch, would this be it?” This invites meeting participants to feel like part of process, even if they aren’t in an active role. It also sends the clear message that anyone checking out of the meeting is likely going to get “caught.”
Gripe No. 6: No Follow Through After Meetings Are Over
If you find yourself holding a meeting to discuss what didn’t get accomplished after the last meeting, it’s a clear sign of an accountability issue. Meeting minutes tend to be ineffective at holding people accountable because while they document who said what to whom, they often fail to include what needs to get done, who’s going to do it and by when. Combat this by concluding every meeting with a quick “roundtable” response to “What are you personally going to achieve and by when?” Document the responses on a decision grid and distribute it to all meeting attendees. Collectively building a decision grid creates peer pressure that eliminates the excuse of “that got buried somewhere in the meeting and I didn’t know I was responsible for it.”
Mark Murphy is NY Times bestselling author, Founder of Leadership IQ, and creator of the leadership styles assessment.