If you feel as if you spend your entire working life in meetings, you’re not far off the mark.
Before the pandemic, managers were spending about six hours a week in metings. CEOs of major corporations had it even worse — 30 hours a week.
However, in these kind-of post-pandemic times, it’s not just just management that’s sitting around in meetings. Now nearly everyone gets the opportunity to waste time — up to eight hours a week for the working stiff and an incredible 72% of CEOs’ work week are now spent in meetings — staring at screens until their eyes bleed.
And that’s not counting prep time.
That’s a lot of money — approximately $37 BILLION a year — and talent tied up when meetings go bad. (For a better idea of how much money you waste in meetings, check out the Harvard Business Review’s Meeting Cost Calculator for your mobile device.)
We’ve all been there, suffering through:
- People reading, word for word, from their slide decks
- People talking over each other
- Wandering off point
- The guy who has a problem for every solution
- The woman who just. Won’t. Shut. Up.
- The hour-long meeting that is now at 2.5 hours, with no end in sight
Maybe some heated arguments, too, just to add a little excitement.
Bad meetings aren’t limited to work, either. Our clubs, community and church groups, and other organizations can be just as tedious.
How to make your meetings great
I love good meetings. Good meetings can lead to greater understanding and buy-in of organizational goals. They can draw out the best that each participant has to offer, and distill that experience and knowledge into new products, services and systems.
They can bring together diverse points of view and strengthen teamwork — and now that more meetings are virtual, physical distance is no longer needs to be an issue in including far-flung employees or contractors.
They can fire up lackluster work groups and improve performance.
Never been part of a meeting like that? Few have, but they do exist. And you can create them yourself.
The key is structure. Structure is what allows the magic to occur.
And best of all, these tips will work for your in-person meetings, too.
1. Start with a purpose. Why are you having the meeting? What do you want to accomplish? Be clear in your own mind first.
2. Create an agenda that clearly states what is going to be discussed.
The agenda is an absolute must. It should include not just when the meeting starts, but when the meeting will end as well. Thirty-minute meetings are best, but certainly nothing longer than 60. The shorter the meeting, the more focus is required.
3. Pick your attendees with care. Does every soul who works in the company need to be there? Conversely, are there people outside the firm – vendors, perhaps – who should also be invited?
Fewer people are better when it comes to meetings. That way, everyone gets the chance to participate and decreases the possibility of chaos. This is especially true for virtual meetings. Huge gatherings require the bandwidth (and the properly expensive programs) to set up separate rooms, assigning people to those rooms, extra assistance in keeping track of the participation levels in those rooms, starting the recorders, and more.
4. Provide plenty of notice. Preparing for a meeting is crucial if you want quality participation.
One of the reasons meetings go bad is because participants don’t do their homework and way too much time is wasted bringing the laggards up to speed. Don’t give them the excuse that they just now saw the agenda.
5. Record it. Be sure you have someone who is responsible for making a record of the meeting. They may need help remembering this step (guilty) so don’t be afraid to remind them. This is a key accountability factor.
This external structure sets the boundaries of the meeting. The internal structure is set by the chairperson…and here is another place where meetings go bad.
Someone has to wield the hammer
Probably the most important part of the chairperson’s role is to remember that they are not there to shove their personal agenda down everyone’s throat. Running a meeting is not the same as unquestioned control of the known universe.
The leader’s job is to encourage ALL people to participate, recognize that participation, rein in those who would hog the floor, keep an eye on the clock and the agenda, and move the discussion forward in an orderly fashion – all with diplomacy, strength and tact.
A good meeting leader will note who has not spoken, and specifically invite them to give their input. A good chairperson will encourage divergent points of view without allowing the conversation to devolve into blaming, name-calling or undue negativity.
In problem-solving or brainstorming meetings, it’s important to look for possible solutions. Anyone can identify a problem. The key is not to point out why it can’t be done but to look for ways it can be done. Encourage your attendees to be “yes, and” participants instead of “yes, but.”
A good chairperson will keep asking, “What else? What else?” Because there are lots of potential solutions if you keep looking for them. Don’t just stop at the first idea that comes up.
The end of a meeting is just as important as getting off to a good start and having a lively, vibrant discussion.
A great meeting ends with a general recap of what has been decided – what steps have to be taken, who is responsible for making it happen, a deadline by which it must be accomplished and setting a date for the next meeting to share and measure progress.
What if you didn’t call the meeting and you’re not the person in charge? You can still turn a bad meeting into a good one – but that’s the topic for another day.
How do you think meetings can be improved? Please add in the comments.