Meet like you mean it


In the year or so we've been doing The Cranky Middle Manager Show, we have talked about a lot of things that make managers, well, cranky. Oh sure, there are the usual suspects: number-based performance reviews, bosses that don't ask before implementing policies, IT people who don't understand the word "broken" and insist on more detail. But by far, the number one crankiness-inducing thing in our lives is bad meetings.

Meetings. Staff meetings, web meetings, project meetings, AA meetings. Okay, AA meetings generally don't cause crankiness mainly because:

  • they have a clear purpose
  • people want (or even better, NEED) to be there
  • there are only 12 steps to success and everyone knows what they are
  • There is always plenty of coffee and doughnuts.
Or so I've heard.

At any rate, meetings have been a problem for managers ever since the first cavemen fought about who should sit nearest to the fire.

When you look at the reasons people hate meetings, there aren't a lot of big surprises. According to people who study meetings for a living (and there's a masochism with deep, deep roots) the reasons meetings don't work include:

  • Meetings are too long
  • I don't know why I'm here
  • The people with the right input or information aren't there
  • They keep getting off track
  • Leaders have no control over participants (usually time management)

It's amazing how few organizations actually have standards or expectations that are communicated clearly to their managers. As a result, each manager or department develops its own style and culture- and bad habits emerge.

These bad habits are not only annoying and suck the life from the marrow of employees, but have real costs associated with them. To figure out this ROI, there's a pretty simple formula:

1) take the length of the meeting, multiplied by the number of participants.
2) figure out the average hourly rate of each participant
3) multiply line 1 by line 2
4) then double that number to account for the work that's not getting done while you meet
5) If there's any costs associated with getting to the meeting, feel free to add those in as well
6) Share this with any manager who wants to reserve the conference room.

This is not to imply that there isn't value associated with meetings, or that we shouldn't take every chance to communicate. Managers and their organizations should understand that it's important to get the most value from the time together.

Really, most of the perceived problems can be avoided by addressing two areas: Planning and Facilitation.

Planning can take the shape of formal outlines and planning tools, or just applying some criteria to your meeting. Criteria like- should you even hold the meeting at all?

Of all the questions you should ask before even holding a meeting, the two most important are: what do you want the meeting to accomplish- and who can provide the best input to achieve it?

If you can answer those two questions, and take the steps to ensure all participants know those answers as well, you're well on the way to getting meetings under control- or at least lowering the whining to an acceptable level.

Facilitating the meeting is important as well. Good presentation skills are important, especially on web or teleconference meetings where the visual components aren't as engaging - I mean being able to watch that crusty stuff in the corner of Bob's mouth or trying to identify the stain on his tie will at least give participants something to look at and create the illusion of attention. You miss that good stuff on the phone or computer screen.

Maybe the simplest and most overlooked facilitation tool for meetings is announcing the desired outcome, how much time you have to accomplish it and what you expect from the participants when you announce the meeting, then reiterating them at the start of the meeting itself.

This will help you get the right people with the right information in the room and gives you as the meeting leader the right to keep things on track (since everyone knows what the track IS) and you can enlist the help of meeting participants in meeting your goals. The best news about leading a meeting is the participants are even less excited about being there than you are.

By giving some conscious thought to your meetings… and figuring out best practices your managers should use as well, you'll get the most out of the time you spend and give participants a reason to live - or at least show up with better attitudes.

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About The Author

Wayne Turmel
Wayne Turmel

Wayne Turmel is a speaker, writer and co-founder of The Remote Leadership Institute. He’s passionate about helping people present, sell and lead people and projects using today’s virtual communication technology. His books include Meet Like You Mean It - a Leader’s Guide to Painless and Productive Virtual Meetings. Wayne is based in Chicago, IL.