Tame The Beast Known As Ineffective Meetings
By Bob & Carol Boncella Washburn University
For example, if it is 10 a.m. on the second Tuesday of the month, then it must be time for some committee meeting. These routinely scheduled meetings allow participants to reserve time on their calendars—their attendance expected, no questions asked. Other meetings, however, are held on a more ad hoc schedule. If a certain business endeavor or strategy issue needs attention, then it must be time to hold the project meeting.
Harvard Business Review found one large company spent 300,000 hours a year supporting weekly executive committee meetings. Other estimates find that 30- 70 percent of an employee’s work time is spent in meetings. At the low end, that means people may attend 15-20 meetings a month.
If the average annual salary of people in attendance is $80,000, a onehour meeting of 10 people may cost the organization as much as $500. Multiply that amount by 20 meetings in any given month, and the cost meetings can be as much as $10,000. That figure rises when upper management is involved. And, it rises even more when meeting prep and follow-up times are included. Yet, sadly, as reported in a survey from AtTask conducted by Harrison Poll, 59 percent of people thought meetings were a waste of time.
Given that meetings are endemic in the business world, it is essential to make them as effective as possible to accomplish key business goals and avoid wasting employee time and the organization’s money.
1. Do I really need this meeting?
Holding an effective meeting starts well before the actual meeting. A good first step is to determine if the meeting is in fact necessary. Go through the checkpoints below to determine if your meeting is needed.
Information sharing If the information can be just as easily shared via an announcement or email, that option may be the better route to take. Be cautious about foregoing meetings solely because they offer information. Remember, meetings may be helpful if you want to gauge associate reaction to the information being communicated, particularly if it is complex or likely to be riddled with emotions. You are not able to read body language via email.
Brainstorming and problem-solving Complicated organization-wide issues will likely require a broad spectrum of people to offer ideas. A meeting offers a perfect opportunity to do so.
Morale boosting Sometimes meetings are helpful to rally the troops behind the kickoff of a major endeavor. Enthusiasm is contagious and may energize participants for the difficult work needed as they pursue successful completion of a project. Once you determine a meeting is necessary, consider the time and day. Avoid first thing in the morning to allow people to get their day organized and after lunch to escape any “post-lunch dip.” Same goes for Mondays and Fridays for a few reasons:
Holidays often are celebrated on those days.
Participants are likely to use either of those days to extend a weekend to three days.
People like to get the week started fresh on Mondays or tie up loose ends on Fridays.
2. Who should attend?
Participants may “check out” during meetings because they perceive their attendance as useless. So, use care when deciding who should attend your meeting. Of course, if it is a staff meeting, it stands to reason that staff members should be present. If it is a project meeting, involve key stakeholders, including decision makers, knowledge experts and representatives of the people affected by the project.
3. What do I hope to accomplish?
Now that you have determined that a meeting is necessary and have identified key participants, you need to establish an agenda. Agendas can make or break a meeting. Good agendas include:
Meeting purpose. Determine the intended course of the meeting with a stated purpose, e.g., Purpose: to develop three reasonable actions plans to present to upper management.
Specific agenda items. Start agenda items with a verb to identify the expected action for a particular agenda item to focus the discussion. Is the group expected to approve? To amend? To review? To develop?
Lead person for each item. Identify the person to manage the discussion of the item. This person is familiar with the item and is responsible for keeping dialogue moving forward.
Time frame allotted for agenda items. Limit the time for an individual agenda item to keep the discussion from being hijacked. The use of a “Parking Lot” is a reasonable solution to keep tabs on important issues that come up beyond the scope of the current meeting’s agenda. These issues can become agenda items for future meetings.
Beginning and ending a meeting on time is important. Some meeting leaders have been known to lock the meeting room door to remind latecomers that an 11 a.m. meeting does not mean it is okay to stroll in at 11:20. The effective meeting leader sticks to the agenda, including time allotment for each item. Scheduling a 50-minute agenda means employees will get out 10 minutes early and will feel a sense of accomplishment.
4. Do participant have ample documents to prepare for the meeting?
Participants should have the meeting minutes as well as any supporting documents within one week of the meeting so they can prepare themselves for agenda items before the next meeting. Set the expectation that all participants come prepared. Advanced preparation makes adhering to the agenda much easier.
The next time you are planning a meeting, answer the four key questions and you will be able to tame the beast of ineffective meetings.