What? Another Meeting?

March 31, 2012 by  Filed under: Management 

When was the last time you heard (or said) “I have too many meetings to attend, and can’t get my ‘real’ work done”? Or, are you hearing, “That was really a great meeting – well worth my time to attend”?

I remember a couple of decades ago, when the PC became an office staple, and voice mail allowed us to capture missed calls, that the frequency of meetings would diminish. WOW was I wrong. In fact what I’m finding in many companies is the frequency of face-to-face or virtual meetings is even more abundant – and unfortunately less effective with the worst of those meetings creating nothing more than opportunities to catch up on e-mail (under the table with a handheld device) or become hypnotized by an endless stream of PowerPoint slides and charts. Despite the expert advice on how to build an effective meeting agenda, I’m finding that company meetings generally reflect the overall culture and how the work actually gets done.

Meetings and Culture

Where there are problems with role and responsibility definitions, unclear decision-making authority, broken processes and lack of accountability – the number of meetings usually escalates. Instead of tackling the real problems, more meetings are held to create a temporary fix. These are the companies where meetings are often (and frantically) called at the last-minute, with lots of attendees who are already behind on accomplishing their daily work, and knowing that they will probably be assigned yet another missed item or “911 task” resulting from a poorly planned project or undefined responsibilities. Or worse yet, attendees are blamed or singled out for poor performance in a public setting.

Clearly the solution for these companies is not simply a more effective meeting agenda, but to identify and solve the underlying issues.

Better Meetings

Regardless of culture, meetings are an important aspect of work life and can be highly effective. So, try running through the following points the next time you need to hold a meeting:

Determine if the meeting is necessary – Resist the assumption that a meeting is the only choice to address the issue or topic. Ask yourself if having a group discussion is the best option to solve a problem, inform people or create a quality result.

Be crystal clear on the meeting purpose – Build the agenda with the purpose and expected outcomes.

Define and plan the agenda – Be careful of overloading it with too many topics or trying to blend both strategic and tactical discussions. Too many topics may not allow enough discussion time, and blending strategic and tactical discussions may cause difficulty in shifting from one type of thinking to the other. When possible, send the agenda out ahead of the meeting so people can come prepared.

Plan the amount of meeting time – Try turning a 60-minute meeting into a 50-minute meeting to give attendees back an extra 10 minutes. 15-20-minute standup meetings are very effective for quick check-in meetings. If the meeting is a half-day or more, manage and plan the activities to provide for needed shifts in thinking and participating to keep the energy level high.

Invite the right people – Not everyone who might possibly be connected to the topic or issue. Run through the list of people, and make sure each is critical to the meeting’s purpose and intended outcomes.

Anticipate and plan for disagreement – Healthy cultures welcome disagreement, and encourage it in meetings, as they know the different perspectives and viewpoints will create better ideas and solutions. It’s one of the best reasons for gathering a group.

Assign action items and follow-up – Always re-cap decisions, and actions agreed upon and don’t forget the appropriate follow-up after the meeting.

One of my favorite books on the topic of meetings is Patrick Lencioni’s “Death by Meeting” – where he outlines a model that includes four basic types of meetings appropriate to different purposes. It’s well worth the read.

“If we hate meetings, can we be making good decisions and successfully leading our organizations? There is simply no substitute for a good meeting – a dynamic, passionate, and focused engagement – when it comes to extracting the collective wisdom of a team. The hard truth is, bad meetings almost always lead to bad decisions, which is the best recipe for mediocrity.” – Patrick Lencioni

Terri Hughes is the owner/principal of Terri Hughes, LLC, a leadership development & executive coaching business. She has been in the business of guiding change and developing leaders for over 25 years, primarily in the corporate space as vice president & director of leadership development and organizational change in a large retail corporation.

Terri’s recent clients include leaders and teams in manufacturing, technology, retail, health care, government, small business and higher education industries. She works with individuals and teams in a variety of situational change arenas including: leadership behavioral shifts, new role transitions, career changes, organizational and life changes.

Terri has a BS degree in communications from Ohio University; a graduate of the Coaches Training Institute (CTI) and holds master certifications in multiple change & transition processes.

Visit her website http://www.terrihughes.com for details, free resources and to schedule a complimentary consultation to discuss your needs.

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