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Another Unproductive MeetingWouldn’t it be nice if everyone thanked you at the end of the meeting and told you how glad they were to have been there?

How likely is that to happen?

A recent study found that for the second year in a row, workers reported meetings as “the biggest distraction and waste of time presented by the workplace.”

Did you know that time spent in meetings has skyrocketed? Harvard Business Review reports leaders spend more than two days a week in meetings, an amount that has increased every year since 2008.

Recently I had the pleasure of being interviewed by Kevin Eikenberry for his “Remarkable Leadership Online Seminar” about how to host productive meetings. We had a lively conversation which you can listen to at the bottom of this post. Here is a summary of our discussion.

If meetings are interfering with getting work done, should you cancel them? Perhaps.

The trick is to make your meetings meaningful – to have a clear purpose that attracts participation. Team members readily engage when the meeting is about making it easier for them to accomplish their work. And if it doesn’t, then you are wasting their time.

6 reasons to hold a meeting.

Actually there is really only one reason to have a meeting – to create and tap into the collective wisdom of the group.

The 6 reasons below are ways to build and harness collective wisdom.  

1. Making joint decisions using everyone’s best thinking.

2. Thinking together about a plan or problem – utilizing each other’s expertise and good thinking.

3. Working together on things you cannot accomplish as well working separately.

4. Creating a common perspective and shared meaning, through discussions where everyone hears the same thing at the same time.

5. Creating a big picture view or shared vision, moving beyond individual areas of responsibility.

6. Strengthening relationships and building trust.

3 reasons NOT to hold a meeting.

1. For information sharing – to simply give updates without discussing it. There are better ways to share information, such as email or a project management tool like Basecamp. As a general rule: email is for information; meetings are for conversation.

2. Because it’s already scheduled. It’s helpful to have standing meetings on the calendar, but it’s not necessary to hold every meeting if there is no new information to discuss or decisions to be made. Nor should it be assumed that everyone needs to attend the meeting. Before each meeting, identify the meeting goals, and based on that, determine who needs to attend. Everyone at the meeting needs to know why they are there. If there isn’t a clear reason to be there, your time is being wasted.

3. To make it easier for the leader to monitor what’s happening. To get updated on individual projects, the leader should meet with the individuals. There’s no need to waste other people’s time listening to things that don’t affect them.

How the silo effect undermines meetings.

It’s possible to mistakenly think you don’t need to be at a meeting because of the silo effect.

The silo effect occurs when your focus is too narrow. For example, often senior leaders who are members of a leadership team are only interested in things that affect their own line of business or functional area. They have missed an important opportunity – to collectively provide leadership around strategy and direction for the entire business. When they see their leadership responsibility from a wider perspective, they start listening differently to each other, the discussion changes and their investment in the meeting shifts.

The silo effect undermines meetings at every level of an organization, from leaders to individual contributors. Taking a broader view of your work helps your entire team. If you are only concerned about your own goals, instead of how your team is doing, you will be very bored during meetings.

Build a meaningful agenda.

Build your agenda backwards, starting with the end of the meeting. What do you want people to leave saying, knowing, and ready to do? Everything on your agenda should drive toward your desired outcomes.

Make your agenda as clear as possible. For each agenda item, identify who will facilitate that section, how much time is allotted and what is required of the team – a decision, suggestions, or discussion.

At the end of each meeting, identify next steps, the focus for the next meeting, and do a “meeting review” where you get feedback on what worked and what didn’t during the meeting in order to continuously improve your team functioning.

Involve your team.  

Decisions about the meeting purpose, who should be at the meeting, and how often to meet are not your unilateral decision as a team leader.

You need team input, and the best way to do that is to create a Team Charter together. (For more information on the elements of a Team Charter and how to create one, read:  Create a Team Charter to Go Faster and Smarter).

You will know you’ve mastered the art of hosting meaningful meetings when you hear at the end of the meeting, “This will help me get my work done easier, better and faster, and it was worth taking the time to attend.”

But you can’t get there alone. You must allow your team to share responsibility for creating meaningful meetings.

Listen to the Interview

If you appreciated this summary, I recommend listening to this 60 minute recording of the interview, as Kevin and I get into much more depth than I could cover in a short blog post. Enjoy!



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