Don’t Lead Time-Wasting Meetings

If you’re not the one who leads meetings in your organization, this topic might not be for you. A better one in that case might be, “How not to Attend Time-Wasting Meetings”!

I have sat through too many long meetings that seemed to get little or nothing done, so I can sympathize with attendees who would rather be almost anywhere than the meeting they’re stuck in. However, I’ve also run a meeting or two, and some of them go better (or worse) than others for reasons that are outside the leader’s control.

Your ability to lead and contribute value to meetings might play at least some role in your success in your current job or in landing a new job, so this is a subject you might want to give some thought to.

Credible Meeting Leadership

You might hold a position of authority in your organization and ostensibly have meeting leadership as part of your management charter. However, that doesn’t mean you are automatically viewed as having credible meeting leadership. For example, if one of your direct-report managers habitually shows up late for meetings, that raises questions about your leadership. “Why can’t he/she get everyone to come on time?” might be the question other attendees are asking. It also appears that the individual in question doesn’t respect either the time of the other participants or of you as his/her manager.

If the flip-side is the case–that is, you are the one who is sabotaging the meetings by showing up late–your credibility could be called into question. How committed are you to the success of your organization? Why do you appear to put other things ahead of what your manager expects from you?

Valuable Meeting Contributor

Whether leading or attending meetings, you have some potential to be viewed as a valuable meeting contributor and help everyone get more out of the meeting than they would otherwise. Here are just a few tips to consider:

  • Know going in what the meeting focus/goal is–and, if you’re the leader, communicate that clearly and strongly when you issue the meeting “invitation.”
  • Regardless of whether or not you think others will come properly prepared, make sure you have your house in order when you arrive. You don’t want to be the one who appears to be indecisive, ill-informed, etc.
  • Try to determine the expected length of the meeting ahead of time–and build some flexibility into your schedule so you don’t get put in a bind when it runs overtime.
  • Bring work you can do while you wait for the laggard to turn up or engage other meeting attendees in meaningful dialog related to something mutually useful.
  • Make sure your emotions are under control before you join (or start to lead) a meeting. Those who visibly lose control tend also to lose the respect of people they need to engage.

Hidden Aspects of Meetings

I recently read an article titled “The Hidden Side of Meetings” by Ron Ashkenas. It makes a good point about why the problems with time-wasting meetings never seem to go away, even though most people recognize the downside of not dealing with them. Briefly, Ashkenas sees three factors that can have a bearing on the success or failure of a meeting:

  1. “…when people show up at meetings, they come with different perspectives.”
  2. “…people have different (often-unconscious) personal agendas that may influence the character of the meeting.”
  3. “During meetings, people relate differently to leading or being led.”

I don’t know of any magic pill that will take care of time-wasting meetings once and for all. The best I can suggest is that you think ahead and do what you can to minimize the problem!

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