Two hundred and thirteen hours a year. That’s how long we spend in meetings. That’s nearly nine days. Nine days where we’re left feeling as though very little has been added to our work lives except for frustration and extra stress. Societally, we’re becoming stuck in a vicious cycle of meetings. Perhaps it’s time to consider having a meeting about why we’re having so many meetings…
Obviously holding a meeting about it isn’t the answer, but something does need to be done to turn the usual lacklustre approach to meetings on its head, and instead create a forum whereby attendees leave them feeling as though they’ve truly gained something; an addition to their work life, where meetings are effective, informative, and perhaps this is a stretch… but possibly even enjoyable.
Unfortunately, although meetings are somewhat universally disliked around the workplace, they’re still a necessary part of them. Whether you’re Chairing or participating, there are a number of methods of ensuring that meetings don’t become the “Glenn Close” of your work life; lurking behind every professional move that you make. Amazon’s Jeff Bezos shares this broad mentality when it comes to meetings, so much so that he has some basic rules:
- He strictly forbids meetings before 10am.
- He believes that if you’re not adding to the agenda – you shouldn’t be there.
- No Powerpoint – instead his executives have to produce a six-page memo with real narrative meaning in advance of the meeting. Bullet points don’t make Bezos meeting criteria.
So, in taking a leaf from Bezos’ action plan; if you’re considering holding a meeting, there are a few meeting measures that should be acknowledged…
What is the purpose of the meeting?
What goal are you trying to achieve? Does this require a gathering of the entire team, or would one or two core members suffice? Do people have to be physically present or would a conference call be enough to hash out any issues?
Plan the agenda
What issues are you trying to resolve? Any topics you want to be discussed with your team should be considered well in advance – they could possibly be the result of past meetings, from previously “parked” topics, or new issues, but regardless, they need to be put down on paper and distributed to everyone who needs to be at the meeting. This allows them to plan their contribution, therefore reducing filler content and the time needed. Furthermore, allocate a specific amount of time for each agenda topic. Nobody has time to linger on one topic for too long.
Schedule the meeting in a conductive manner
Like Bezos, don’t plan a meeting for first thing in the morning, or similarly, last thing in the evening. Unless you want attendees to be stifling yawns with cups of coffee while watching the clock, plan your meeting to be held at a time when people are more likely to be alert and responsive.
Make it fun (at least to a certain extent)
This will break down attendee’s barriers and lead to people being willing to share ideas earlier than they typically would. Most people would completely balk at the idea of sharing a joke in public, but if we make a joke about ourselves it may lead to us seeming humble and approachable.
The manner in which the Chair deals with the group is a vital method of ensuring that everyone in the room stays on topic. They may “park” certain topics for later discussion if they are not currently relevant, and they often have to control the “celebrity” in the room (i.e. that one person in every workplace that loves an in-depth, loud, discursive of the one point that pertains to them).
Taking the Bezos Powerpoint rule a little further, perhaps ask everyone to leave their phones and laptops at their desks to ensure that no-one is able to distract themselves with technology during a meeting. Therefore, they have no other option but to focus their attention on the agenda and possibly contribute resolution ideas to certain issues.
Be the Minute-Man
The minutes need to be distributed to all attendees as soon as possible after a meeting. This prevents convenient or natural forgetfulness and makes it more likely that people will adhere to the decided objectives in the meeting.
How do you feel the meeting went? Did it stay on track? Did it go over time? Was it really even needed in the first place? Considering the successes and failures of previous meetings is a useful tool in determining whether future meetings are needed and how often. Perhaps instead of a weekly meeting, it could be bi-weekly. Memos sent out to all employees with recent changes to the workplace, as well as possible upcoming ones may be useful in replacing one or two meetings.
No one knows your work schedule like you do. There will be times when you may have to be firm and authoritative; if after reading an agenda for a meeting and you determine that it has very little to do with your role – say no. There is no bigger time waster in the work place then being present at a meeting that you’re not needed at. An employer or Chair will surely understand if they are told in advance. Furthermore, if you’re the Chair and people get up and walk out in true Elon Musk style, don’t be offended – they just don’t believe that they can contribute or that they can take much from the current topic. We all need to be a little more ruthless when it comes to our precious time.
When Chairing a meeting, consider the introverts. Oftentimes, the person who listens more than they speak has a lot to offer. A gentle coaxing through appropriate questioning may help to extract some useful ideas and alternative solutions to a problem. Speaking to these colleagues before the meeting about how they might like to be heard could help open doors to some wonderfully novel ideas.
The above points are pragmatic and realistic, and putting them in place could practically guarantee a more efficient meeting and productive workplace as a result. The mindset around meetings is in dire need of a revival, and there’s no better place to start one than in your own workplace.