It's been 28 years since Michael Doyle and David Straus wrote their groundbreaking book, How To Make Meetings Work (1976). Are you like many of my clients who gripe about numbing, deadening meetings? As one publication put it, "days, weeks, months, years of our lives are slipping away in stuffy, overcrowded conference rooms”. Little appears to be accomplished and no one seems to be able to do anything about it.
Doyle and Straus claimed that there were 11 million meetings in the US every day in 1976. Doyle says that there are 25 million today and most of them don't work. If you calculate how much productive time plus lost wages accrue to those sitting in the room, a truly staggering figure emerges.
Fortunately there are answers for this dilemma. Let me offer you ten tips for turning around your unproductive meetings.
1. Is the meeting necessary?
Let's start with a fundamental-and radical- question: Is your meeting necessary? A meeting largely serves two important business purposes: sharing information or making a decision. Can some other method of information sharing/decision making be used? Meetings are often held because "it's time for our meeting" with very little thought spent in what will actually happen. So rethink if you even need to hold it.
2. Send an agenda in advance.
If you do decide to hold the meeting, send an agenda at least three days in advance. The agenda should be clear about what the meeting results should be, how people should prepare and what roles they will play. Show how the meeting connects with other meetings that may have contributed to the issues that will be addressed. Ask for feedback. The three days allow for modifications if needed.
And don't forget to connect the meeting with the larger mission and vision of the organization. This creates and reinforces the much-needed larger context for the meeting.
3. Start and end on time.
Not doing this just (starting on time) reinforces the latecomers and punishes those who arrive on time. There are few things more maddening then waiting for stragglers and then listening to the half-hearted apologies-or no apologies at all.
Ending on time indicates that you value people's work that must be done after the meeting. Unfinished items can be carried over as part of the planning for the next meeting.
4. Create ground rules and follow them.
- These should include:
Whether "checking in" time should be before or part of the meeting
- Reinforcing starting and ending on time
- Creating a climate of trust where people can speak freely and no one gets hurt
- Setting boundaries around the decision making process. When do you just want information from the group and when do you want a group decision
In my next post, I’ll cover the six remaining steps for improving your meetings.