“People who enjoy meetings should not be in charge of anything.” ~ Thomas Sowell
“Has anyone ever said, ‘I wish I could go to more meetings today?’” ~ Matt Mullenweg
“Meetings are indispensable when you don’t want to do anything.” ~ John Kenneth Galbraith
I was going to say that meetings get a bad rap, but they really don’t. If we’re honest with ourselves, too many meetings (way too many) are boring, pointless, and a waste of time. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Done correctly, meetings are an indispensable part of the way we do business. They can be an essential tool for coordinating efforts, solving problems, making decisions, and reaching consensus, all of which lead to taking action. So what’s the problem? Why do so many meetings fail to achieve much? For more on this, please continue reading below.
“The majority of meetings should be discussions that lead to decisions.” ~ Patrick Lencioni
Meetings aren’t inherently bad, but we frequently conduct them in ways that are. Consider a few examples.
- Regularly scheduled meetings. As, for instance, the weekly staff meeting. Too often these get to be a matter of habit with no expectation of any particular outcome. So we review some of our key performance indicators (metrics), talk about what’s going to be happening this week, then we adjourn and everybody goes about their day with no decisions made, no problems solved, and no actions to be taken. In short, these meetings only disseminate information that could probably have been disseminated more efficiently by text message or email. As Patrick Lencioni suggests above, if we aren’t here to solve a specific problem or to reach a specific decision, why are we wasting our time?
- Too many cooks in the kitchen. Everyone complains about meetings, but no one wants to be left out for fear that their absence will signal a diminished importance to the organization. As a result, we have nine people in a room to talk about something that affects only three of them. We need to make sure meeting notices go only to those who really need to be there. To the uninvited, we need to convey a message that they are so important to the organization, and their time is so valued, that we’re not going to waste their time by making them sit in on meetings that don’t concern them.
- Too many rabbit holes. A well-conceived meeting should have a specific purpose with a specific outcome in mind . . . i.e., a problem solved or a decision made. Whoever is leading the meeting must keep the group focused on the expected outcome and not allow the discussion to get sidetracked into unproductive rabbit holes. If the discussion is too unfocused and wide-ranging, participants will start to feel that their time is being wasted and will wonder why they are there.
- Insufficient conflict. Sometimes, in the name of keeping peace in the family, a leader will avoid discussions that might provoke conflict. That’s a mistake. When the members of a group are able to express and defend their ideas and opinions, even when the discussion becomes contentious, that’s when creative, innovative solutions are born.
There are lots of ideas about how often meetings should occur, how long they should be, how they should be structured, etc. In fact, in his book, “Death by Meeting,” Patrick Lencioni offers some very specific advice about how to structure daily, weekly, monthly, and quarterly meetings, each with its own role in the company’s overall meeting schedule. But the real secret to a good meeting, regardless of frequency or structure, is purpose. It has to have a defined purpose, and that purpose has to have weight and importance . . . preferably, a problem to be solved or a decision to be made. But a solution or decision doesn’t have much value unless it actually gets implemented. So when everyone is packing up to leave the meeting, the leader has to say, “Whoa! We’re not done here yet. We still have to decide who’s going to do what to get this implemented, and we have to decide on a timeline for getting it done.”
So, when your people walk into a meeting, is it another ho-hum, business-as-usual, let’s-just-get-this-thing-over-with part of their day? Or do they walk in with a feeling of anticipation that we’re going to be doing something that is interesting, important, and will result in actions that will move us forward?
The choice is yours.