In any business environment, meetings are probably an inescapable fact. While not bad in and of themselves, they create a hugely negative impact when they aren’t well-organized and managed. The sad fact is that this happens much more often than it should–and it can be avoided (at least for the most part).
Way back when I used to organize meetings, I would become very frustrated at the lack of cooperation from people who were supposed to attend those meetings. Sometimes I felt as if it would take a miracle to get them to the meeting on time! Those people were all department managers who reported to the VP, not lower-level workers, but they seemed unable or unwilling to get their act together. The result was that other attendees would give up, say “let me know when you’re ready to start,” and leave.
If you hold a position that requires you to be the meeting leader, you have both the opportunity and the responsibility to set expectations and then communicate those expectations clearly to your team–with some consequences if they don’t follow the plan.
Ways to Avoid Time-Wasting Meetings
Since we’re dealing with human beings, there might not be a perfect solution, but you can do some things to move in that direction. I just read a short article titled “Effective Meetings: The Top Three Challenges,” which gives a few useful tips on dealing with ineffective meetings. These are the three issues the article mentions:
- “Do you have any tips on encouraging people to be on time to meetings?”
- “We hold regular staff meetings but often we spend a great deal of time on nothing at all. What can we do to be more productive?”
- “No matter what we do, our meetings go on and on and on. What can we do to shorten our meeting?”
As I said earlier, you as the meeting leader have a responsibility in all of these areas. If the people who need to attend the meeting report to you, the situation is a little simpler than if they don’t. However, it’s up to you to do whatever is in your power to improve the situation. In my view (and that of the article’s author), that would include:
- Start the meeting on time, even if some people show up late (if they miss something they wanted to have input on, maybe they’ll plan to be on time for the next meeting!).
- Create an agenda ahead of time and stick to it–don’t let the discussion get sidetracked or allow someone to go on forever and monopolize the meeting.
- Eliminate or postpone items that aren’t critical at that time (either they can be given to someone individually to do or they can be postponed to a later date).
What if You’re Not the Meeting Leader?
If you’re not in charge of the meeting, your options are more limited. For example, if your boss is the leader and allows unproductive meetings to become the norm, you might not be able to change that. In such situations, you might have two ways to go:
- Talk privately with your boss if he/she is receptive to getting feedback; let him/her know that you want to be a valued contributor to the meetings but are finding it difficult with the way those meetings are playing out. Be ready to offer a constructive suggestion or two that might improve the meeting process.
- Resign yourself to the fact that you’re going to be stuck in a few meetings you’d rather not be in and do what you can to make them productive for you in spite of the lack of good meeting leadership. For instance, is there anything you can reasonably do while the interminable discussions are going on (or even ahead of time) that will help you do your job better?