End meeting madness

This article first appeared on stuff.co.nz in November 2014

Someone get me a ladder, I’ve got a very high horse to mount.  Meetings.  Meetings with no clear purpose.  Meetings that are poorly run.  People who are late for meetings.  People who don’t contribute in meetings.  That’s just the headlines.

Let’s start with people who are late for meetings.  I spend a lot of my working life facilitating strategic planning sessions for senior teams and Boards. If I had a dollar for every time someone’s late it would match my Kiwisaver account.  Late comers always have an excuse – the most common “sorry, traffic was horrendous.”  As if traffic congestion is new!  You can’t get yourself from A to B in time but you feel you can contribute to organisational strategy?

The worst is the coffee excuse “sorry – had to get a real coffee!”  Oh, well that’s okay then!  Seriously, this happens all the time.  As a leader don’t tolerate people being late for preventable reasons.  Certainly don’t delay starting the meeting because someone can’t get their act together.  You’re accommodating their failure to manage time and sending the wrong message to those who are punctual.  If you’re a leader, role model being on time.

Meetings must have a purpose. Otherwise why should people give up hours of their precious life for no purpose?  If the purpose is to inform or update, do it by email.  If it’s to discuss an important issue, solve a problem, or make a decision, then let people know the purpose and what you expect of them.  “The meeting is about generating ideas for responding to the new entrant in the market.  Make sure you read the background information and be ready to share your ideas.”

If you are invited to a meeting, but it’s not clear what the purpose of the meeting is, or what’s expected of you, find out.  If you feel you cannot contribute, politely decline. Don’t sit there consuming oxygen, coffee and muffins.  Exercise self-leadership so you can use your time productively.

If it’s your meeting, only invite people who should be there.  Once you have more than seven people in a meeting the likelihood of making a good, quick, executable decision drops by about 10 percent for each additional attendee. Once you hit 16 or 17 people, the likelihood of effective decision-making is close to zero.

If you are prone to “over contribute” manage yourself – express ideas succinctly. If you are a quieter type, get over yourself and contribute.  You won’t die – even if your idea is not fully formed before being wheeled out of your mental hangar.

If you commit to a meeting, and there is background reading, read it!  So much valuable meeting time is wasted bringing people up to speed or answering questions covered in the background information.  As a leader, set the expectation that people come brain engaged and ready to go.

Meetings don’t have to finish on the half hour or hour.  Who made that up? People end up scampering from one meeting to another. Embrace the quarter to the hour finish time.

Last, adopt the following meeting guidelines to revolutionise and liberate your meetings:

  • Be on time
  • Be prepared
  • Be focussed
  • Be brave
  • Be respectful
  • Be succinct
  • Be constructive
  • Be action oriented

Thanks for holding the ladder. I’m climbing down now.