Saturday, 14 November 2009

Too Many Meetings!

I ran a GBU (Good, Bad & Ugly) session with my broader group recently. This was actually an interesting exercise from two perspectives. Firstly facilitating a GBU across 50-60 people, and secondly some of the insights it provided myself and my leadership team.

One particular 'Ugly' that jumped off the page at me was the sentiment 'Too Many Meetings!!'. I can associate with this from one perspective - i.e. my record is 14 meetings in one day. This point aside though it did get me thinking, is it that there are too many meetings or that meetings are poorly run? Or even worse people do not know their role in making them effective.

Obviously meetings do serve a purpose, many in fact. They allow for collaboration, inspiration, innovation, direction setting, delegations, escalations, relationship building, communication etc.

So if they are so useful, why are they so painful? In short, because people are not disciplined, nor do they recognise the role they play in driving effectiveness out of meetings.

There really are only two roles in a meeting, the 'Chair' and the 'Attendees'. Many may challenge me on this with more formal roles such as Secretary, time-keeper, evaluator's etc. For me though, in addressing the 'Too Many Meetings!' sentiment there really are two roles we need to talk about.

The First role - The Chair. If you are the person calling the meeting you carry considerable accountability. You need to ensure a number of things occur, in particular the topic, format, and attendance. Failing to take these considerations into account is a definite indicator that your meeting is in a bad way before it even occurs.

I could in fact write paragraph's on setting up meetings, agenda's, pre-reading, advanced distribution, roles and responsibilities etc. On this occasion I won't, I will simply refer you to the team at Manager-Tools and a series of podcasts they have produced on 'Effective Meetings'.

The Second role - The Attendee (Even as the chair you are really one of these). So what can you as an attendee do to improve the quality of the meetings you attend. The following points are a short list of some principles I apply in my day job:

1. Don't Blindly Accept - Make a judgement call if you should attend, delegate or decline.

Recently I messed up on a meeting invite, instead of simply inviting the sender of an e-mail I managed to invite all of the addressees for a 'Coffee Catch-up'. What was amazing was the number of people who accepted and the buzz I caused in the office. What was this coffee catch-up about, why did he invite so many people, is he going to pay. Yes I was a dill and had to retract - but when you see the people who responded my misdemeanour fades by comparison.

2. If there is no agenda - Restrict the meeting to 30 minutes.

One hour meetings without an agenda are a chat fest. They definitely do have their place when building relationships such as catching up with associates, creating a new business relationship, or meeting with friends/family during the work day, what they don't do though is promote focus, drive and actions.

Therefore if someone approaches you for a 1 hour business meeting that provides no information relating to purpose or scope they should only be graced with 30 minutes unless they can produce the relevant materials.

3. State the purpose and approach upfront

It is not uncommon to arrive at a meeting with little more information than the location, a name and a one liner describing the topic to be discussed. More so if you take into account Principle 2 above.

A way around these scenario's is to simply ask/state the purpose of the meeting up front and ensure agreement amongst the attendee's, this will keep you focused, and allow clear closure to the discussion.

If this happens to be a one hour meeting without an agenda and supporting material. I would encourage you to not only discuss the purpose upfront but to discuss the approach or set the agenda (write it on the whiteboard). This way you can agree the topics to be covered in the time that you have and again check-off and close the discussion effectively.

4. If the delegate is not taking notes their not going to take action.

If you are sitting in a meeting and the attendees are not taking notes throughout, especially if they are clearly being assigned actions/tasks, I would be worried. Subtly encourage them by restating the task, and asking them if they have any questions or concerns about the task they have just picked up, even be so bold to suggest they write it down. If you're not comfortable doing this, provide feedback at your first opportunity.

Keep in mind though, this applies to you as well, note the actions/tasks you receive/agree to do. Following up on actions can only make you look good.

5. Remember your toolbox

A tried and true way to make sure you look good as the chair of a meeting is to build your meeting templates and approaches. We've all come across agenda templates we like, so clear out the detail from the best one you've seen and save it in your toolbox. This way you can always refer to it.

Other examples of this approach include a Standardised 1:1 template, 5 Questions in 30 minutes and even the good old Create and Communicate Direction (CCD) template discussed in one of my earlier posts.

6. Sit-up Straight

I'm a sloucher, I am seriously atrocious. Recognising this in myself I headed off to do some learning. Yet again, I'll suggest a Manager-Tools Podcast. I found their guidance Sit Up, Seat Up, Square Up, Hands up invaluable.

So that is it, a few of the principles I attempt to abide by when it comes to meetings. I am in no way a gun chair of meetings, and I do still slouch when I am an attendee. In any one week I compromise one if not all 6 of the above principles.

All that aside though If you are in a state where you spend your life in meetings, or even worse a company that thrives on them. It will be up to you to make them an experience worth having.



1 comment:

  1. Geoff Thompson11:23 am

    Good tips. Perhaps you should write a book.