Mission Impossible?

Ever found yourself sitting in a meeting that seems to be never ending and completely without purpose thinking, please, just kill me now!!

I have a “this too shall pass” tattoo  from a time I was constantly trapped in a Dante’s Inferno of  hellish meetings and while this time did pass, I saw first hand  the damage such meetings can do to morale and productivity.

However meetings seem to be an inevitable part of organisational life, and as David Pearl notes, they’re a bit like mushrooms which propagate in your diary like a fungus on a rotten tree stump.  While a radical culling of unnecessary meetings is often the answer, here are three  relatively quick, simple tweaks which will immediately improve the meetings you keep;

  1. What’s this about? Write your agenda in the form of questions. Rather than have an agenda item which says “3rd Quarter Budget”, decide what you actually want from the discussion and phrase it as a question. For example
  • “How should we re-allocate the 3rd Quarter Budget underspend” or
  • “What changes are required to stay within 3rd Quarter budget”
 An agenda item phrased as a question ensures that everyone arrives at the meeting with the right question in their minds and with a clear understanding of what is required from the meeting. This is opposed to what can happen when everyone arrives with a different interpretation of what the “budget” conversation will be about and then is annoyed when their specific issue is not addressed. The process of deciding on the correct question can  often be  helpful as well. Also a  great sample  meeting agenda can be downloaded here.
  1. Why am I here? Choose who to invite with care. Like any guest list the people you invite can make or break an event. First be clear about why you are having the meeting and then invite those people who will be able to  contribute or have a purpose in the meeting. When people have a real role to play in a meeting they are more engaged and with all the technology at our disposal keeping people prisoners in meetings purely to keep them informed is nothing short of abuse.
  1. When will (s)he shut up?  At the start of any meeting implement two rules; rounds and no one speaks twice till everyone has spoken once. Rounds are exactly as they sound. With every new agenda item (which is phrased as a question) a designated person provides whatever information is necessary to begin discussion around that item and then everyone in the meeting is given a chance to input into the discussion in a round. Only when everyone has contributed their thoughts does further discussion occur. No interruptions and no comments  during a round ensures that everyone contributes  and that meetings aren’t hijacked by one or two individuals. Another way to stop people dozing off when this becomes predictable is to give a small token  to the first person who volunteers to speak. After their input they pass the token on to another person of their choice and this continues until everyone has spoken once.

Great meetings help teams connect and connection improves engagement and team performance. If you’re keen to rethink how you use meetings to increase engagement and performance (warning: shameless sales pitch) talk to us about our Transforming Meetings programme.

And if you need convincing that there’s a better way I’d  really recommend “Will there be donuts? Start a business revolution one meeting at a time” by David Pearl.  You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, a brilliant book.

And I’d love to hear any of your ideas around improving meetings. Let’s share the wisdom.

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