I can hear the groans now. If you’re like most, your 8 to 10 hour workday is more consumed with long-winded meetings than time to actually do your job. You know the types of meetings I’m referring to . . . the ones where everyone “waits their turn” to talk and then tunes out; or everyone’s “eyes glaze over” as they realize this could have been covered in an email; or, let’s not forget, the meetings where unclear agendas disintegrate into unresolved issues, unnecessary conflict and lack of progress.
Like you, I’ve been both a victim and a culprit of the above. Also like you, I’ve looked for ways to better optimize – and potentially reduce the number of – meetings. While there are no quick fixes, I have compiled “Rubi’s Ten Commandments” around meeting effectiveness. It’s not gospel but I promise you it will help make your current meetings more valuable for all involved.
Rubi’s Ten Commandments for Meeting Effectiveness
- Always assign a facilitator to lead the meetings, especially for cross-functional meetings. The very nature of meetings means everyone want their “piece of air time” which makes the role of a facilitator even more vital. Let me be clear. I’m not talking about a “passive facilitator” that goes through a check-list. I’m talking about an ACTIVE facilitator who moves things along, helps to drive decisions, keeps the topic on point and makes sure everyone is represented. When was the last time you were in a meeting like this? Hence, the need is real. Assign a facilitator and then take it one step further to let everyone know what their role is/isn’t.
- Meetings should focus around work sessions, not information sharing. In fact, I don’t like to use the term “meeting” at all. I prefer “work session” because it forces me to ask what I really want to accomplish during this session. Are we getting the relevant stakeholders together to drive resolution? Or are we just checking in? Rule of thumb: Ask yourself, “Am I sharing information or do I need alignment and decision-making? If it’s information sharing only, requiring no to little “live” input, use email. If you need stakeholder decisions, go face-to-face. If you exercise this kind of discipline, then you will eliminate the number one question everyone is thinking when they first come to a meeting, “Do I really need to be here?”
- Only bring ONE PAGERS, MAX to your meetings. No one has the time – nor wants – to read all your content during the meeting. If you have information to share, send an attachment prior to the meeting. Then provide the “cliff notes” version in the meeting versus reciting the encyclopedia!
- Start on time and end early. Unless it’s an urgent meeting, everyone knows when the meeting starts and everyone knows when it ends. The reason why so many meetings run over is people don’t start on time anymore. No disrespect to those who show up late (they are probably coming from another meetingJ). But get used to starting on time AND doing whatever you can to finish on time, or even early, if possible.
- Stick to the agenda. How many times do your meetings veer from the agenda, meaning you don’t even get past point ONE because of the tangents that are generated from the first topic! Unless you have all day, stick to the agenda and pull people back . . . even the leader! Yes, you can always “table the topic” for a later conversation, but doing so spontaneously could lead to yet another ineffective meeting. It’s always better to allow the facilitator to dismiss topics that aren’t relevant to the task.
- Shorten your meetings, period. But increase the number of simple check-ins with your people. This method alone will healthily force you to really ask, “What do I want to accomplish in the meeting with the limited time I have?” Most “check-ins” takes only minutes, allowing people to get back to work. Meetings, however, can consume hours of lost time.
- Document Decisions and Action Items. More often than not, people leave one meeting to race to another and quickly forget the results, if any, of their last meeting. Document and distribute key decisions and action items to help ensure that progress – and accountability – continues.
- Only invite the critical, decision relevant players to the meeting. I’m not advocating keeping people out of the loop. I’m saying include the key people and debrief the rest.
- Say no. Similar to #8, ask yourself if you are a mission-critical participant in someone else’s meeting. If not, excuse yourself.
- Aside from “urgent” meetings, set a window of meeting time, i.e. only allow meetings between certain hours. This approach organizes the workday and gives your people uninterrupted work time along with predictability around meetings.
To be clear, my advice is not to eliminate meetings. Work sessions do serve a valuable face-to-face function necessary for leadership, communication and collaboration. But don’t meet to just meet, perform CYA, or attempt to give an illusion of progress. Rather, reserve the face-to-face for the most vital issues. Your co-workers will thank you.
My Meeting Effectiveness Leadership Challenge to You
Your leadership challenge: Make your “working sessions” more relevant by applying one or more of the above suggestions. Better yet, come up with a few of your own. Then, and only then, will you truly be committed to optimizing the workday for yourself and others. Take back what is yours!
I’m Here to Help You Own It
Privately send me your challenges, questions and comments or use the forum below. I can’t guarantee I’ll have all the answers, but I will be candid, truthful and genuine. All of us can inspire, lead and achieve and drive higher performance and organizational health if we simply work at it.