MAKE YOUR MEETINGS “CRISP” OR FORGET THEM
It's not possible these days to read any new or old material about organizational behavior without coming across a screed or two on the general subject of how too many meetings simply represent a waste of time, energy and resources. I’ve also written here on aspects of the same issue. (See http://www.inc.com/howard-tullman/how-to-deal-with-time-wasters.html.) These sessions rarely accomplish anything except maybe some pseudo-bonding; they don't have a logical and clearly-understood endpoint so they seem both pointless and endless; and, most often, they sorta drool to a conclusion without agreed-upon action items and/or documented next steps for at least half the people in the room.
Maybe holding meetings for meetings sake makes the miserable managers feel more productive, but they don't do much of anything for the business but waste a bunch of time. If the people in the meeting really had a choice, they'd rather eat dirt than sit through another moment of time in their life that they'll never get back to help justify someone else’s job security. Managers who don’t already (and always) have a pretty good idea and a solid handle on what their folks are doing or about to do (and why) aren’t doing their own jobs.
Unfortunately, every business these days - regardless of age or size - seems to suffer from this syndrome and it doesn't appear to be getting any better. I even see it every day walking around 1871 and peering into our many conference rooms where two seconds of checking peoples' postures will tell you the whole sad story. Are they engaged and leaning in, are they actively contributing to the discussion, or are they just leaning back and shooting the breeze? And, of course, the worst cases of all are those where you see the alleged leaders of the meeting (who’re supposed to be running the show) sprawled all over the place like a bag of spilled and soiled laundry. Watching the last remnants of any energy seeping slowly out of these unwitting captives sitting sadly in their chairs is truly depressing. I'd rather watch paint dry.
These kinds of make-work meetings are a menace to every company's momentum. They swiftly suck the oxygen and the urgency out of whatever initiatives and good ideas might be floating around. They're poorly planned, badly organized and run, and grudgingly attended by most of the participants who sit slouched in their seats trying to look engaged or trying to sneak a peek at their phones. The only people who really enjoy these sessions are those seeking a respite from doing any real work and - as a result - they're more than content to sit silently in some corner and just focus on keeping their eyes open. (See http://www.inc.com/howard-tullman/trying-to-motivate-your-employees-forget-it.html .)
Frankly, any recurring staff or team meetings (especially kick-off meetings for the week) that take more than 30 minutes are probably over-populated; attempting to cover a bunch of unnecessary stuff; giving everyone a chance to chat so we don’t hurt their feelings; and otherwise driven by some foolish need to justify the time spent by the attendees in getting to the meeting. Here’s a flash – the shorter the meeting, the more people that will thank you – regardless of the length of their journey. Everyone’s got better things to be doing.
Sharing important and timely information in regular update sessions only makes sense if every participant consciously edits their input and if some of them - from time to time - are smart and courageous enough to pass entirely instead wasting everyone's time with a useless report or a compulsory comment. Not every department is doing something every week that honestly matters to the whole team.
Here’s a simple rule of thumb for when to keep your own mouth shut – don’t say a thing unless it’s going to help someone else in the room do their job better. Otherwise, stifle the urge and save us all from hearing how you spent your weekend or plan to spend the week ahead. Trying to keep everyone in the loop on everything is a game for losers and a major time suck. You want your people turned on - not tired out - especially as you start out the week.
I think the key is to keep the meetings that you absolutely must have as “CRISP” as you can.
Concise: More than a couple of topics is simply too much – focus on a few important things.
Rigorous: Keep everyone on the case - start with questions – end with answers and action items.
Immediate: What needs to be done well right now – push off the stuff that can wait a while.
Short: Not one minute more than you need – no need to fill the time with fluff or folderol.
Prompt: Start and end on time – every time – and let the latecomers watch from the wings.