Lets face it, in general, meetings suck.
There’s been a lot written on the subject, the consensus being that meetings have become a liability; a huge time suck that pulls people away from doing any actual work and into rooms to talk about things that they don’t really care about.
We’ve all been there, checking our phone in a poorly run meeting that doesn’t appear to have any defined reason for existing in our diaries, is drifting, over running and that eventually peters out with no clear outcome and no actions taken, aside from to maybe have another meeting.
Bartleby’s rule is accurate, it tells us the 80% of the time of 80% of the people in a meeting is wasted.
So how do we stop this scourge? How can we make meetings effective again?
Like so many things, we need to be the change we want to see in the world; culture change starts with us.
What Does Good Look Like?
As much as we have all been in the poorly run meeting, we have all seen the nirvana of a well run meeting; and, in general, well run meetings share a common set of traits:
- Clearly Defined Outcomes: At some point, and using some method, the person who has requested the meeting has made what is (and isn’t) expected from the meeting clear, and has reiterated that desired outcome at the beginning of the conversation.
- On Time: The person running the meeting has deliberately kept it short, and is pushing for the meeting to finish on time, or early. They have also arrived within 5 minutes of the scheduled start time.
- Limited Audience: When you look at an invite list and see 20 people on it, you should know that you’re not going to have a good conversation. Meeting attendees should be limited to the decision makers, and the invite list should be protected from endless forwards.
- Push to Action: The meeting attendees should be pushing to action constantly; “So what is the next action here?”, should be the phrase most heard in any meeting room, everyone in the room should be desperate to know how to move the discussion point forward and get on with their day.
So how can you run better meetings?
Well, in short your meetings should have all the things that are listed above, but let’s break it down a bit:
- Set Expectations and Define Outputs: You can use an agenda, an IPO or just put it in the invite; but make clear what you’re expecting to get out of the meeting, and what you’re not, and repeat it verbally at the beginning of the meeting.
- Limit the invite list: Don’t invite absolutely everyone who you think might need to be part of the discussion or who might have some interest in it. Keep the invite list limited to those who have decision rights, everyone else can learn about the decision later, and if you can you should turn off meeting forwarding while you’re at it to stop others from turning your meeting into a circus.
- Rabbit Hole Mercilessly: When the discussion is off track and people are diving deep into subjects that aren’t part of the meeting or related to the outcome, rabbit hole them, tell them to take it offline and get back to the conversation you came to have. If they persist, bring them back again.
- Drive to Action: as above, your mantra needs to be “So what’s the next action here?”, if you get silence, suggest an action; and if no one puts their hand up to own the action then assign it to someone, they’ll soon shout if they’re not the right person.
What about if it’s someone else’s meeting?
This is all well and good when it’s your meeting and all of this is in your gift, but what if it’s someone else’s meeting, do you just have to put up with them allowing bad habits?
No, hell no, remember; it’s your time their spending, your most precious resource, don’t let someone else waste it for you.
- Ask for the expectation: if they haven’t made it clear where they want to get to, ask them, preferably ahead of the meeting itself
- Ask if you’re the right person: If you don’t feel like you can deliver their expectation, then save your time and theirs by recommending someone else.
- Make your hard stop clear: All it takes is to say “I have an x o’clock hard stop.”, at the beginning of the meeting, and then you’re clear to walk out at the end.
- Rabbit Hole and Drive to Action: If no one else is doing it, then you do it.
Are there any tools I could use?
There are a few tools that you can use to help you here, I’ll cover them in detail in other posts:
- IPO: Stands for Inputs, Process, Outputs; this is a great tool that not only allows you to define what you want from the meeting, but also the approach that you’re going to take and what you expect everyone to bring to the room.
- Rabbit Hole: I’ve heard this called other things, but putting a name to it allows you to call out when you’re in one, either assign a Rabbit Hole Monitor or take on the role yourself, but once a Rabbit Hole is called the conversation is over.
- Art of No: If it comes to it and you’re not the right person to have in the room then you need to get good at telling people that, study the art of saying no.
Meetings don’t have to suck, there is no rule that says they have to be unproductive snooze tests, the same as there is no rule that says they always need to use up all the time that’s been allocated, or that you need to go to everything that you’ve been invited to.
Meetings also do serve a purpose, they are necessary in organisations full of people, they cannot be avoided all together and so finding a way to make them as productive as possible is on all of us, because we all create the cultures that we work in.
If we allow poor practices to go by unchecked, then they will become the norm, they will pervade the organisation and everyone will come to expect that this is just the way meetings are, but there is a better way, we know there is, and we can all be the change that we want to see, the change that allows us to take control of our time.