07 Nov 2015

Stop Taking My Time! Avoiding Meeting Madness

If I had a dollar for every time a Manager or supervisor told me they spent too much time in meetings, I would be a very rich man. Meetings have become an essential part of doing business in the modern world; but why are so many of them poorly managed? A poor meeting has normally been caused by one of 3 key areas being handled poorly: planning & preparation, meeting leadership, and meeting processes & guidelines.

Here are some tips for avoiding meeting madness:

Tip 1 – Do you need a meeting? Meeting are a great way to get everyone together and drive consensus or reach a decision, but they take time and planning to be successful. Check first whether you actually need a meeting. Could you outline a discussion via email and get people to email replies. Could your item be discusses between two people informally? If so, don’t waste your time or others by organizing a meeting.

Tip 3 – Timeframe. How long is your meeting going to take? Nothing frustrates participants more than a meeting that starts late or ends late. Only slightly less frustrating is the meeting planned for an hour that only needs 10 minutes. Respect people’s time and consider the appropriate length of your meeting. How long will each agenda item take? Display the approx. length of time for the meeting on the agenda so people know what areas will be quick and what needs to be discussed in depth.

Tip 4 – Attendees. A senior IT Manager told me recently that the most frustrating thing he finds with meetings is only have a small part of the meeting relevant for him. The best meeting he attended involved the meeting chair advising him of what time his required topic would be addressed, then letting him leave once it was discussed. “I was so grateful because I had a huge deadline to meet that day’ he said. In your email / communication advising of the meeting, tell attendees what components they are there for and what decisions they need to make. Even if the person can’t attend and has to send a replacement, at least they know what decisions (and what level of person) is required in their place.

Tip 8 – Champion the quiet people. In every meeting, there will be people more willing to voice their opinion than others. It is a poor chair that assumes that the quieter people have nothing to say – they may be too polite to raise their point, worry about being spoken over or may just be considering what has been discussed. Ensure that the quieter people have an opportunity to engage without being condescending.

Tip 11 – Confirm understanding. Recently, I walked out of a meeting and discussed one point with another participant. It was like we were at two completely different meetings! I thought we were discussing white and he was convinced it was black. A good leader of a meeting will summarise the points discussed and confirm understanding. One Manager I worked with asked the question: ‘What are you going to tell your staff about the point we just discussed?’ and asked everyone for their responses. Through that discussion eight different versions of the topic were combined to a single message. Clever.

If these tips have been helpful and you are looking for more, read the full list of 17 tips for ‘Avoiding Meeting Madness’. Do you have any other tips? We would love to hear your views and tips – just add to the comments below.