The Meeting Elephant in the Room

If you are at any level of success in a company, meeting requests are a major problem. On one hand, you need a team of highly skilled people to collaborate on complex issues to find the right path to bring value to your customers quickly. On the other hand, many meetings are * perceived * as a waste of time; and, at worst case, can be counterproductive.

It is so easy to create a meeting request and assume that everyone who is invited is on the same page and has the same context. Therefore, it is easy to assume that the subject line of the meeting tells everyone all they need to know about the discussion (i.e., what to bring, how to prepare, what will be decided, etc…). Why would you need to create an agenda or give anyone any more background?

Of course, the harsh reality is easy to understand when you’re not in the moment: everyone has slightly differing views and may not understand what you want to accomplish. Unfortunately, this scenario can be a “death spiral”. That is: You are planning a meeting to talk to people who are not readily available because of all their other meetings…and due to your other meetings, you don’t believe you have time to create an agenda or get everyone on the same page…so you just send out the meeting request thinking that you’ll get everyone up to speed during the meeting and that you’ll get what you want accomplished. Of course, the harsh reality is that this is rarely the case. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been in plenty of well run and efficient meetings. However, I’ve also been in many meetings where I’ve left wondering how I could get the last hour of my life back!

Some time ago, I went on a personal journey to improve my own meetings. As expected, I found that it is extra work to convene an efficient meeting. I also found that it pays off in major productivity improvements. For me personally, I’ll take that. I have found that I’m much more able to deal with additional job stress when I know that at least something in my professional life is efficient and productive.

A key part of what has helped me is a very short (just over 5 minutes) youtube video by Nicole Steinbok on how to conduct a 22 minute meeting…and a 9-step process to wash your hands! I won’t give away the chuckles as the presentation is very well done. Watch it. One of more powerful, but super simple, ideas is to change the “default” meeting length. I found that – if you actively facilitate a meeting – you can get tons done in less than an hour. In fact, I have sometimes avoided meetings all together by convening relevant people in a 5 minute cube conversation.

Also, the idea of preparing for the meeting (sending materials in advance) sends a powerful message to others that they should also be prepared. Now granted, the first time or two people will just stumble in as normal and say that they didn’t have time to read the material. However, if you can gently chastise people to come prepared, it will pay off. No one wants to look like the idiot and others can apply peer pressure by demonstrating that they are prepared. It is infectious.

Now to be clear, this will not solve all the meeting problems…and some people simply won’t get it. That takes more time and effort (a separate blog post), but I proved to myself that real change is possible and you can take control of your meetings. It does take a little extra effort. However, I believe the time spent is much less than the time wasted with poor meetings. Good luck in your journey!

Business Cliche of the Day (followed by the real meaning): Data-driven decision-making – “I’m just going to make a knee-jerk response, but I’m trying to justify it”

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Veteran technology professional and manager

Posted in work habits

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