Although I have also attended a number of worthwhile ones, my frequent experience of meetings is that they are disjointed, unfocused, and fragmented; and have questionable value. During these meetings I often ask myself things like: “Haven’t we had this discussion many times before? ” “Didn’t we already decide on what to do? ” I feel like we keep starting over. And starting over (or feeling like we’re starting over) takes energy – a lot of energy. We’re talking major inertia – think Newton’s First Law of Motion here. I think it’s common for a lot of us to feel like just getting started can be the hardest part of an endeavor. Granted, starting over has its place; but as a modus operandi it is draining and sometimes demoralizing. Plus we don’t get to reap the benefits of traction, momentum, and the feeling of being on a roll when we’re constantly starting over. It’s almost like a strange version of the movie “Groundhog Day.” Informal polling of my colleagues confirms that I am not alone in these feelings and opinions.
I contend that we spend too much time attending and not enough time preparing for meetings, too much time trying to figure out agenda items for recurring meetings (kind of a tail-wagging-the-dog phenomenon) and not enough time leveraging any value that we garner from them afterwards. How can we hope to take the time to prepare and leverage when our calendars are stuffed with back-to-back meetings? I’ve gone so far as to ask for a weekly full- or half-day meeting moratorium. Everyone I mentioned this idea to – managers and individual contributors alike – thought it was a good idea; they also thought it wouldn’t likely fly. I’ve since decided to drop this idea for the time being in favor of a new strategy: lower the supply of meetings by lowering the demand; lower the demand by making the meetings we do have more effective; and fuel a series of meetings with momentum and continuity by implementing the few practices I recommend below.
The practices I recommend:
1. All meetings should have explicit objectives.
Objectives should be articulated such that we should be able to determine whether those objectives were met. Now some objectives can be things like: To get attendees’ feedback about something, or to foster esprit de corps within a team. The idea here is to be intentional about the purpose or purposes of a meeting.
2. Meetings should have a facilitator to keep things on track and to capture parking lot items so they are not dismissed or lost.
There can be more than facilitator for a meeting, though not more than one simultaneously. I can well imagine a meeting having different sections with different facilitators. What is critical is that someone be empowered to keep things on track.
3. Time should be allocated at the end of each meeting to identify next action steps and the person(s) responsible for carrying out each of the steps.
4. In the spirit of Lean and Kaizen attendees should have a systematic way to rate meetings.
5. Someone should write up a summary of the meeting that is sent to attendees for verification and modification. The final draft of the summary should be published to a location that conforms to the standards of the group.
Let’s take the time, institute and consistently adhere to these practices. Let’s commit to getting the biggest bang for our meeting buck!