Virtually all business professionals attend meetings. And many of us don’t like them. Here’s the one question to ask before scheduling one with your colleagues.
This tip comes from an article in Forbes magazine and begins with this ominous statement:
On the day you read this article, 11 million meetings will be held in conference rooms across the United States. An average of nine people will be attending each meeting, and a third of the attendees will find the meeting unproductive.
Yuck, right? Here’s the author’s advice:
Start by drafting an agenda; it’ll force you to get clear on what you need to accomplish. And in doing so, you’ll be able to answer the one question everyone should ask him- or herself before scheduling a meeting:
What is the intent of the meeting? Is it to inform, discuss or decide?
Personally, I think that most meetings aren’t for any of these reasons. They are held because of meeting inertia (we’ve always had a meeting!) or because of ego (I’m the boss, we’re having a meeting!) or because of disorganization (I don’t know what’s going on, we’re having a meeting!)
If you’re the one scheduling the meeting and it truly is to discuss or decide, it’s possible a meeting is appropriate. (However, it may well be the case that an online poll is sufficient.) And if the goal is to inform, you probably should be sending an email.
But what if you’re not the person who is calling everyone together? For most of the people in most of those millions of meetings per day, they are just expected to be there. What can you do if you’re merely stuck in the room?
Before the meeting
Go the person organizing and ask for a few minutes of their time. Review the list of attendees and make arguments for each of them (but not you) passing on this meeting to get key tasks done at their desk. If you can reduce the number of attendees, you’re helping.
You can also see if they are interested in sending out a written update as a consent agenda. That way everyone can read the usual yadda yadda in advance and agree to it, instead of having to review it.
Lastly, you can offer to run the meeting as a favor. “I know you’re really busy, and I thought this could help out.” You can put together an agenda, keep things on task, and generally show good meeting practices.
At the meeting
A technique that is surprisingly effective is to ask everyone to stand for the course of the meeting. You don’t have to be the organizer, just suggest that standing is healthier and it helps the conversation be more active—both of which are true. Also, standing meetings tend to finish more quickly.
Another effective way to keep meetings moving along is to apologize. That’s right: say you’re sorry that you’re not keeping up. “Is there any way we can get this in a written form so we can review it more detail on our own time?” It works; try it!
Finally, you can make meetings better by asking to start the meeting by writing an agenda. That way everyone is more likely to keep on task and you can refer back to it later.
After the meeting
Once the meeting is over, it can be helpful to go to the leader to discuss the meeting. Ask them how it went. Find out if they think it could be improved. See if they are open to suggestions.
It’s no surprise that most people can’t stand meetings considering how poorly they are often run, and how frequently they never needed to happen. If there are problems with meetings in your organization, push back. And if you need help running better meetings and improving employee communication, let us know!