Much has been written on meetings in the past several years. Are they good? Bad? Productive? Or just frustrating interruptions to the flow of the day?
My position is that meetings are becoming MORE essential than at any other time in corporate history. With digital technology at a premium, meetings serve to bring people together in the flesh, or at least in real time through the use of ZOOM, and other virtual meeting software. These are the places where leaders truly LEAD! It is the treasured battleground where your influence is put to the test. It is where direction is given, and the journey from moving here to there begins. It is where a team begins to “buy in” and starts to act.
But admittedly, meetings can also be the breeding grounds for waste: people’s time, their pay, and even their morale. Worse, people can leave a bad meeting feeling like they’re on the same page, but finding out later that they weren’t even in the same book!
Leaders, it is our job to improve this.
The number one thing a leader can do to improve meetings is demand that every current meeting’s length is cut in half. Every meeting. Increased time does not lead to increased efficiency. So, if we are not going to allow for “scrap” on the manufacturing floor, we shouldn’t be okay with it in our corporate meetings. Furthermore, decreasing the time in meetings creates a sense of urgency in the room. We don’t have fluff time to mess around, so when we are meeting, let’s get down to business. This can create urgency elsewhere as well.
To do this effectively, however, every meeting needs a leader. Ideally, this is THE leader, or a leader, in the organization. For the purposes of the meeting, they’re the boss. They’re the person that explains the issue, or issues at hand (never more than a few), and they keep the discussion tied to these issues alone. When people bring up problems outside these issues, they write them down so they can be addressed at a separate meeting. In other words, meetings cannot cook a “stew,” they should cook a single entree.
In addition to a meeting boss, a good scribe is also needed. While it is tempting to let the meeting boss to do this, they’re a bad choice because they need to be focused on the conversation going on, rather than writing it down. The boss should be asking clarifying questions, and paying attention to body-posture clues inside the room. The scribe, however, is free to keep their head down and type. Done well, they also can free some people from attending– those who really just need the information from the meeting. Like cutting the time of meetings in half, most meetings can also cut the amount of people attending in half. But this is only possible if a scribe is sharing in detail what happened at the meeting.
Finally, there needs to be clear action items from the meeting. Every organization does this. To make it effective, however, the meeting boss needs to go through each action item with the group to assess commitment level, understanding, and the plan going forward. If this does not happen prior to everyone leaving, the time spent was most likely a waste. As elementary at it sounds, there is power in a person saying, and owning, their action items. There is also value in finding out who is not committed, or said more politely, who would be more committed with one of the action items. Clarifying this here is vital, and keeps the organization moving forward.
Everything above could be done well and still no action be taken because individuals lose sight of the action needed to take. We all live with “information overload,” so unless we have a process for keeping up with our own action items, we are doomed from the start. As mentioned before, I use, and highly recommend, Michael Hyatt’s Fully Focused Planner. The act of physically writing down tasks, checking them off, and doing a weekly-review keeps me on track. Admittedly, Hyatt’s system isn’t the only one out there. But to me, it is the best. Whatever system you choose, find some way to keep your goals in mind, and keep your team accountable for the action items you agreed upon.
If successfully implemented, these ideas will save time, save resources, and enhance productivity. Meetings have gotten a bad rap, but done well, they are a leader’s best tool to create a motivated, productive organization. As Patrick Lencioni once said, “Meetings are where leaders lead!”