OK, I admit it — I hate attending most meetings.
Why? Because in over 30 years of meetings, I’ve found that there is rarely a set agenda, attendees tend to come minimally prepared, AND there doesn’t seem to be a defined reason or objective to hold the meeting in the first place!
Such endless meetings are particularly stressful because most attendees feel that the meeting takes them away from what they’re supposed to be doing.
Despite the importance of some degree of anonymity in how employees do their jobs, no organization can successfully compete if no one is informed of their coworkers’ progress.
So, meetings shouldn’t be a necessary evil. In fact they can be a great way to:
- Brainstorm ideas
- Keep everybody apprised of what’s really going on
- Monitor progress toward goals
- Modify the action plan in order to keep things on course
Technology has rapidly expanded the number of ways in which people can meet. While face-to-face seems to be the preferred method, it may not necessarily be the most effective method in terms of cost or outcomes.
While teleconferencing and webcasts have eliminated geographical restrictions on who can be included in the meeting, it’s important that managers are sensitive to the different time zones of the attendees. While a 4:00 PM teleconference might work for people in the New York office, this would require a 4:00 AM commitment from an employee in Shanghai!
Too many ill-timed meetings can create stress and fatigue, which can precipitate burnout.
Aside from the time differences, it’s also important to consider why attendees need to be present — as well as whether they need to participate in the entire planned meeting.
For me, there is nothing worse than to be required to sit through a meeting which, after the 15 minutes, is irrelevant to my duties and responsibilities. Yes, it’s important to have insights into what is going beyond my area functional area — but could that information have been more easily shared via an email update?
Technology has blessed us with a variety of new ways to meet. This is my Top 5 list of the elements necessary for a a great meeting:
#1: Respect people’s time. Start when you’re say you’ll start and end when you say you’ll finish. It’s amazing how time limits help focus attention on the real reason why you’re meeting.
#2: Do the preliminary work — keep it short and to the point. When I launched Tri-State SHRM (a local chapter of the Society of Human Resources Management), I had all Board members submit a summary of their committee’s goals as well as the progress that they made on those goals in the previous month – AND they were required to email it to Board members 2 days before the meeting. BUT it was one page maximum — that’s one page comprised of bullet points. Not only was it easy to pull together (an important consideration when working with a volunteer Board), but it was also easy to read – which meant that they actually reviewed it before the meeting.
#3: Don’t rehash what everybody already knows. Just like it’s bad practice to simply read a PowerPoint slide when presenting to an audience, it’s equally bad practice (and, quite frankly, rather insulting) to read your report verbatim in a meeting. Focus on the highlights. Consolidate similar activities into one statement; for example, if all the goals have been met on 2 projects, just say that. Keep it simple.
#4: Don’t confuse apples and oranges – make the reason for the meeting clear. Some meetings are progress meetings that summarize what has been accomplished on key projects. These are the quick status updates – so keep them short. But before you can have the status updates that focus on efficiency, you have to have a brainstorming and idea building session that determines whether these projects are needed in the first place – in other words, you also have to focus on effectiveness. Since ideas take time, these brainstorming can be longer. The trick is not to confuse these two very different types of meetings. At Tri-State SHRM, I scheduled a quarterly, face-to-face idea session over breakfast or lunch (great for teambuilding, by the way), then followed that with monthly one-page status updates via teleconferences.
#5: Form follows function: everybody doesn’t have to be at every meeting. Only invite those people to the meeting who have something substantial to contribute or will be affected by the results. I was once asked to drive 5 hours one way in order to attend an all-day meeting – where my “contribution” was a 10-minute PowerPoint. The expenses involved with attending (travel time and lodging) would have been cost prohibitive to the client, so I instead suggested that I be conference called into the meeting. Since all the attendees already had my PowerPoint handout, I simply needed to summarize and answer any questions that they might have. Not only would it have been costly to the client to have me attend in person, but it was also a waste of everyone’s time, effectiveness, and efficiency.
So the next time you dread attending a meeting, stop and ask yourself: is this meeting really necessary AND what it is that we are really trying to accomplish? Your answers will help you determine the most efficient and effective way to accomplish your goals.
Dr. Geri Puleo, SPHR, is the President and CEO of Change Management Solutions, Inc., an eLearning and Coaching company focused on eradicating workplace burnout through the B-DOC Model. An entrepreneur for over 25 years, keynote speaker, author, blogger, business coach, university professor, and researcher, you can see her “in action” by watching her TEDx Talk on YouTube. To contact Dr. Puleo, please go to www.gapuleo.com.