Meetings That Don’t Suck

skyeteam leadership development

If you are looking to build a high performing team, to deliver business results that matter, to take control of your time, then our advice is start with a candid look at the meetings you attend or host.  How many hours a week are you attending meetings that suck?  When we work with leaders who are experiencing Meeting Mayhem and complain of meetings that suck, we challenge them to take control of their time and to decline meeting invitations that don’t have a clear purpose / focus, or meetings to which others are better qualified to attend.  This challenge is usually met with “oh no… I couldn’t possibly do that…”  In most cases you can and if you truly can’t decline the meeting requests you receive, you can at least impact the meetings you host.

The following will help to ensure that your meetings are effective and don’t suck!

  1. Identify the Purpose of the Meeting: This may be obvious, but take a look at your outlook invites.  How many are empty shells that simply tell you what time and in which room to show up?  Being clear about the purpose of the meeting will help ensure that your team is focused at the right time on the tactical (fire burning today) issues AND have time to focus on the strategic (forward-looking fire prevention) issues. 
  2. Create the agenda:    It allows those who have been invited to prepare in advance and contribute to the best of their ability; to understand what is expected and how they can help achieve the goals of the meeting. Consider how much time is needed for each item, and add 15 minutes, experience has shown we invariably underestimate the time needed and the result is an agenda that is crammed full with no hope of achieving everything that is listed.  I encourage you to schedule “white-space” in your agenda.  White-space is time that can be used when an agenda item goes long.  It can be taken as a break to allow team members to process what has been discussed (or check emails). It can be used for a quick walk outside the building – a powerful strategy can that can trigger ideas and conversation that move the team forward.
  3. Invite the right people: Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should… an effective meeting will have the right players in the room and no more.  If you are used to 10+ people attending your business meetings, especially those where a decision has to be made, then I would argue you have the wrong people in the room! A clear purpose and agenda will enable you to identify the critical few, those people who HAVE to be present, rather than sending a blanket invitation to all and sundry.
  4. Select a time-keeper:  It may feel like Kindergarten to need to have a time-keeper… but the role is critical.  A timekeeper can help you stay on task and your agenda.  If a discussion is going long the time-keeper can briefly interrupt the discussion.  This allows the team to stop and make an informed decision to keep the discussion going (and what will be dropped from the agenda), table the conversation for later, or to decide that enough debate has occurred and determine the next steps.  If you have ever sat in a meeting that has dragged on and on (and my guess is that at that point there are only two or three people still ‘debating’) this habit could help you tremendously.
  5. Start on time: It’s a simple tactic, but delaying the start for a few late comers is disrespectful for those who have arrived on time.  Make this a discipline in your teams and people will get the message!
  6. Make sure phones and laptops are off:  Checking email under the desk (we all know what you are doing) or taking a look on the laptop means you are not paying attention or contributing to the meeting at hand.  We had one senior leader who announced “If you cannot switch your phone / laptop off for the duration of this class (meeting) you are telling me that you can’t possibly get on a flight lasting more than 4 hours.  We are a global company… if you can’t travel then we need to talk.” Needless to say, phones were switched off and the sky did not fall down.
  7. Action Items: Make sure these are captured in a  ‘what, when and who’ style and circulated to everyone.  Start the next meeting by ensuring that these items have been completed.  If they haven’t been completed make a DECISION whether to extend the deadline, remove from the action list as no longer required, or remove the barriers to completion.  This will stop the same conversations coming up over and over again.

You may not be able to control how others plan and conduct their meetings, but you can decide how YOU want to conduct yours.  Take these seven steps, and you will see an improvement in the effectiveness and impact of your meetings… you might even finish early!!