As 2017 comes to a close, take a few minutes and glance back through your calendar.
Look at how much time you spent in meetings. I’m willing to bet it’s hundreds of hours or more. Humorist Dave Barry said, “If you had to identify, in one word, the reason why the human race has not achieved, and never will achieve, its full potential, that word would be ‘meetings.’”
One of the top complaints I hear from clients is that they have too many meetings and not enough time to get real work done. But when I ask what they’re doing to change their approach to meetings, I’m usually met with silence and blank stares. This is it. For 2018, we all need to implement seven simple strategies when it comes to meetings:
1. Do not accept every single meeting invitation you receive. We’re like robots, programmed to hit the “accept” button when we receive an invite. It’s easier, because it also helps us declutter our inboxes. Stop. When you are asked to attend a meeting, do you know why? Sometimes people are trying to cover their bases by inviting everyone under the sun to a meeting. There is nothing wrong with asking the meeting organizer why you’ve been invited to participate. If your attendance isn’t necessary to achieve business goals, decline the invitation.
2. Stop having meetings to plan a meeting. We do it all the time. We’re going to plan a meeting, so we need to get a group together to meet so that we can plan the real meeting. Sometimes you’re planning a huge meeting. I get it. But not every pre-meeting meeting is necessary. Understand the difference. Designate someone to prepare a draft agenda, circulate it via e-mail and perhaps hop on a quick call to talk through it. Boom. You’re done.
3. Set an agenda. This seems so simple, but there are so many meetings happening without agendas. Agendas should be prepared and circulated either in the calendar invitation or at least 48 hours prior to the meeting. Identify the discussion topic, designate the individual responsible for discussing it, and set the amount of time for that topic to be discussed. A meeting participant can serve as the timekeeper to keep meetings on track and running in a timely manner.
4. Beware of rabbit holes. There we are, knee-deep in a topic, and we start to go off on a tangent that has nothing to do with what’s being discussed and probably is worthy of a meeting of its own. Have the wherewithal to redirect participants to the purpose of the discussion and offer to revisit the tangent at another time or at the end of the meeting if there’s time.
5. Stop using meeting times for report-out sessions. How many times have your meetings kicked off by going around the table and having everyone update everyone else on what they’re doing? That is nothing more than everyone trying to prove to everyone else how busy they are, and it does nothing to advance strategic business objectives. The “this-is-what-I’m-doing” information can be circulated via email in a memorandum to interested stakeholders. Use meeting time to discuss what you need from others or to get feedback on specific things. This approach narrows the meeting focus and cuts way down on meeting time.
6. Put your phones away. If you’re in a meeting, then that’s where you’re supposed to be. You are not supposed to be checking your emails or responding to text messages while someone is talking. The message it sends to others in the room is that there are more important things on your mind than the meeting itself. If that’s the case, why are you at the meeting in the first place? See strategy number one. Emergencies happen, but everyone needs to learn what constitutes an emergency so that we experience fewer interruptions and people are empowered to handle situations that should be within their control.
7. Identify action items. At the end of the meeting, go around the room and make sure participants understand the action items and what is expected of them when they walk out the door. It ensures alignment, and it forces people to pay attention when they would otherwise be tempted to be checking email or watching YouTube videos. See strategy number 6.
A little purpose can bring a lot of clarity and streamlining to the hundreds and hundreds of hours we spend in meetings.
A former associate general counsel for The Hershey Co., Claudia Williams is founder of The Human Zone, a firm focused on leadership development and employee engagement.