How frustrated do we all get with aimless, pointless meetings at work? Apr 2017

How frustrated do we all get with aimless, pointless meetings at work? Those meetings that seem to go on and on but end up going nowhere. I have lost count of the number of hours spent over the years in meetings that have been little more than a ‘talking shop’ but without a clear purpose or call to action as a result of the meeting. These are the meetings where you scan the room and you can see most people are wondering the same thing ‘why am I even here?’

This is the blunt truth about meetings. Without a clear call to action they are a waste of everyone’s time and effort. They can become one of the biggest drains of time, money and energy in a business.

This malaise can set in and quickly becomes the norm in many organisations. I believe this is because many people view meetings themselves as being the output or achievement. The fact that we have co-ordinated diaries (which is often challenging in itself) with colleagues or partners to discuss and share relevant information is enough. And on the surface, this seems very positive – anything that promotes direct communication and information sharing has to be a good thing, right? I don’t see it this way. The problem is, that in our increasingly volatile, uncertain and complex world this approach is inadequate. Communication needs to be viewed as the mechanism to achieve our goals, but not the goal itself.

For any meeting to be effective it needs to result in the following:

Clear decisions being made;
Establishing a clear call to action, with timescales that promote a sense of focus
If a meeting doesn’t address these two fundamental goals it will not have been effective.

So what should we do to improve the effectiveness of our meetings?

Although many of us (I am certainly no exception to this) often complain about meetings at work, the fact is that we can all do something positive about it. After all, we can expect to spend a significant amount of our working time in meetings, and are all under increasing time-pressure, so it is worth thinking about how we can make them more effective. Some simple tips here can really make a big difference.

Decisions and Actions

Firstly, ensure that every meeting has at least one participant who is responsible for driving the meeting to make firm decisions, and then assigning action items to different individuals. It is important that the action items have been recorded. This promotes accountability and ensures you can refer back to them at the next meeting to track progress. It is a good idea to rotate this responsibility around different team members. To run an efficient and effective team meeting is a real skill and one of the most important aspects of being a team leader.

Good meeting discipline

Secondly, it is vital to embed a culture of good meeting discipline. This takes time, but with consistent practice it can make a real difference. Good meeting discipline means that the meeting stays on track and keeps to time, side conversations are avoided, and individuals are considerate of each other. It also means that points are made constructively, and equal participation is encouraged so that no one individual dominates the discussion. In our device driven culture, it is also important that meetings are not hijacked by people checking their emails and mobile phones. Increasing numbers of businesses have stand up meetings as a way of shortening them in order to keep them more focussed.

It is safe to say that if your meetings are currently dysfunctional, the same will probably be true of the team itself. So I would recommend you challenge yourself (and others) next time you are in a meeting. Clarify the decisions that have been made as a result of your discussions, and check these decisions have been documented and action items have been assigned. Suggest everyone in the meeting answers the following questions:

What have I done since our last meeting?
What will I do before our next meeting?
What are the things that will interrupt me from doing these things?
These good practice tips will help to ensure your meetings become more purposeful, focussed and functional. By working with a number of businesses to help change the mind set and approach to team meetings, it has acted as a powerful catalyst for wider business improvement. It is well worth investing time and energy to rethink your internal meeting culture. You may be very surprised by the results.

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